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Time Running Out for CD Settlement Claims

Music fans have until Monday to register for their $5 to $20 share of a settlement involving major U.S. record distributors and retailers.

All U.S. residents who purchased at least one compact disc, cassette or album between 1995 and 2000 can register online for a piece of the $44 million class-action settlement.

The latest figures, from October through Tuesday, indicate 2.8 million people had signed up on the Web.

That may seem like a lot, but it probably represents just a small fraction of Americans who purchased retail music during the late 1990s. Figures from the Recording Industry Association of America show that 4.98 billion CDs were sold in the United States between 1995 and 2000.

The settlement allocates $44 million for individual claims, but there’s a catch: the individual payouts shrink as the number of claimants grows.

At the 3 million mark, individuals would receive checks for about $14. The deadline for signing up is Monday at 11:59 p.m. PST.

If enough people enroll to drive down the individual payout to less than $5, all the money would instead go to the states, which would divide it among nonprofit entities such as schools, libraries and public radio stations to promote music programs.

Some enrollees may have been affected by the financial incentive not to alert their friends about the settlement, said John Brautigam, an assistant attorney general in Maine, one of 40 states involved in the case.

“We heard some allegations early on that people were purposely not telling other people about this,” he said.

The lawsuit, which was consolidated in federal court in Portland, accuses major record labels and large music retailers, facing competition from discount retailers like Target and Wal-Mart, of conspiring to set minimum music prices.

The defendants – Sony Music Entertainment, EMI Music Distribution, Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corp., Universal Music Group and Bertelsmann Music Group, as well as retailers Tower Records, Musicland Stores and Trans World Entertainment – have denied any wrongdoing.

The settlement still must be approved, and a May 22 hearing on the deal is scheduled before U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby in Portland.

Beyond the $44 million in cash, the deal’s terms would provide 5.5 million CDs valued at $75.7 million to public institutions and nonprofit organizations. And it would prohibit major music distributors from tying cooperative advertising efforts to retailers’ advertised prices.

Settlement signup: http://www.musiccdsettlement.com

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