Coleman Wants File-Sharing Penalties Reduced

Sen. Norm Coleman said Thursday he will push legislation this year to reduce legal penalties for people who download copyrighted music off the Internet.

Coleman, R-Minn., said current penalties, which range from $750 to $150,000 per downloaded song, are excessive and enough to scare innocent people into settling lawsuits filed by the recording industry.

"I can tell you that $150,000 per song is not reasonable, and that's technically what you can put in front of somebody," Coleman said in a conference call with reporters. "That forces people to settle when they may want to fight, but they're thinking, 'goodness, gracious, what am I going to face?' "

Coleman said he will also press for changes in federal law to reign in the recording industry's subpoena power.

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (search) allows the industry to obtain subpoenas, without a judge's signature, to track and sue people who download songs. Coleman said he would like to allow for some judicial review.

Coleman's announcement came two days after he held a high-profile congressional hearing that featured the recording industry, the file sharing industry, and rappers LL Cool J and Chuck D.

The Washington-based Recording Industry Association of America (search), which represents the major record labels, has filed civil lawsuits against 261 people it accuses of illegally distributing music online, and promises thousands more suits.

The RIAA, which blames piracy for flagging music sales, opposes changing the law.

"Given the scope of today's piracy epidemic, we must not weaken the hand of copyright holders to enforce their rights and deter illegal behavior," said spokesman Jonathan Lamy.

Not surprisingly, the file sharing industry welcomed Coleman's comments.

"Senator Coleman's willingness to act quickly to protect the public in these two critical areas is commendable," said Adam Eisgrau, executive director of P2P United (search), a trade group which represents the file-sharing industry.

Coleman said he didn't have any specific numbers in mind yet for revised penalties.