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Gary Younge
US music industry sues 261 for online song copying

A 12-year-old girl in New York, a professor at Yale University and an elderly man in Texas who rarely uses his computer have been included in the first wave of civil actions against people accused of illegally sharing songs on the internet.

The Recording Industry Association of America, which is bringing the cases, said yesterday that the 261 people it was suing were "major offenders" who had illegally distributed an average of more than 1,000 copyrighted music files.

But some of them insisted yesterday they had been wrongly accused.

Durwood Pickle, 71, from Richardson, Texas, said his teenage grandchildren had downloaded the music on to his computer during visits to his home.

"I didn't do it, and I don't feel like I'm responsible," he said. Mr Pickle found out that he was being sued from the press.

"I'm not a computer type person. They come in and get on the computer. How do I get out of this?"

Brianna LaHara, a 12-year-old on the Upper West Side, discovered she was being sued on Monday as she prepared for her first day back at school.

Her mother paid a $29.99 (£20) monthly service charge three months ago for a music swapping service call Kazaa.

"I got really scared. My stomach is all turning," said Brianna. "I thought it was OK to download music because my mom paid a service fee for it. Out of all people, why did they pick me?"

It is believed that the music industry is bringing the cases to show music sharers that it is prepared to get tough.

"Nobody likes playing the heavy and having to resort to litigation," said Cary Sherman, the RIAA's president.

"But when your product is being regularly stolen there comes a time when you have to take appropriate action."

The RIAA picked the most prolific sharers rather than those who download the music, in an attempt to strike at the core of the network.

US copyright laws allow for damages of between $750 and $150,000 for each song offered illegally on a person's computer. Roughly 60 million Americans, half of whom are thought to be teenagers, take part in file-sharing networks using software that makes it simple for computer users to locate and retrieve almost any song for free.

Norm Coleman, the Republican senator for Minnesota, has promised congressional hearings on the issue.

He suggested that the industry was being heavy-handed. "They have a legitimate interest that needs to be protected, but are they protecting it in a way that's too broad and overreaching?

"I don't want to make criminals out of 60 million kids, even though kids and grandkids are doing things they shouldn't be doing."

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