The recording industry (search) is expected to announce as early as next week an amnesty program for people who admit they illegally share music files across the Internet (search), promising not to sue them in exchange for their admission and pledge to delete the songs off their computers.

The offer of amnesty will not apply to the roughly 1,600 people who already have been targets of copyright subpoenas from the Recording Industry Association of America (search), which has promised to file hundreds of infringement lawsuits across the country as early as next week.

Sources who described the proposal Thursday spoke on condition of anonymity. A spokeswoman for the RIAA, Amy Weiss, declined to comment.

The RIAA's offer would require Internet users to complete a notarized amnesty form that includes promises to delete any illegally downloaded music and not participate in illegal file-trading in the future. In exchange, the RIAA would agree not to file a potentially expensive infringement lawsuit.

"I'll be curious to see how many opt for this," said Fred von Lohmann, a lawyer for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, who has criticized the RIAA's use of copyright subpoenas. "It will be an interesting measure of how much fear the recording industry has managed to inject into the American public."

Von Lohmann cautioned that the RIAA doesn't represent all copyright owners and therefore couldn't guarantee an Internet user wouldn't be sued for infringement by others, despite what amounts to an admission of guilt.

"It's not the kind of agreement that most people's lawyers will embrace," he said.

But the amnesty offer could serve to soften the RIAA's brass-knuckle image once the earliest lawsuits are filed, giving nervous college students and others an opportunity to avoid similar legal problems if they confess to online copyright infringement.