Recording Industry Targets Online File Sharers

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This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, July 25, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

DAVID ASMAN, GUEST HOST: Music pirates out there beware. The records industry is turning up the volume on people who trade songs on the Internet, taking hundreds of small-time users to court. Legally. you can actually be fined $150,000 per song if a court finds you guilty of copyright infringement.

Fred Von Lohman (search) is the senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (search). He joins me now from San Francisco. And that is today's big question. What is the defense for sharing music on the web? What is it, Fred?

FRED VON LOHMAN, ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FDN. ATTY Well, I think we have a situation where there are 60 million Americans today using file sharing, and although under current law, a lot of what they're doing is probably against the law, I think that's a sign that the law needs to be changed.

ASMAN: Well, whenever you have "probably" put in front of breaking the law, you have a problem. Laws should be absolutely clear so everybody knows whether they are or are not breaking them, right?

VON LOHMANN: I think that's right. But more important than that, the law needs to be something that a majority of the people believe in and can get behind willingly.

ASMAN: You have an ad that suggests as many as 60 million people are tired of being treated like a criminal for sharing music online. There you have a lineup of normal, average, everyday people. Who, exactly, is getting sued?

VON LOHMANN: Well, so far we haven't seen any lawsuits. What we've seen is hundreds of subpoenas that the recording industry is issuing to Internet service providers, people like Earthlink, and Worldcom and people like that, in order to find out who these users are. They're getting your name and your address. The lawsuits will begin at the end of August.

ASMAN: So, just correct me if I'm wrong, but if I have ever — and I'm not going to say whether I have — but if I have ever plugged into one of these sites and downloaded a song, my name is on somebody's list?

VON LOHMANN: It could be. What they're really focusing on right now is people who upload files, people who are sharing with others.

ASMAN: So, the people that are sending them out. Doesn't that happen automatically, once you plug into it, isn't everything on your list available to anybody else?

VON LOHMANN: Right. That's the default set-up. You can change that and on our Website at, we have instructions to explain to people how they can change it so they are no longer doing that.

ASMAN: Now ambiguity is one problem of the law. It has to be clear, it can't be vague. It can't say, maybe I'm breaking the law, maybe I'm not. But the other thing is, unequal application of the law, that is also verboten according to the Constitution. If you sue or prosecute some people for this law, you're violating that code of the Constitution. Right?

VON LOHMANN: Well, I think there's a risk here that the recording industry will pick and choose who it goes after. And we have to be careful about that. But they have said in the press that they're very serious about really going after anybody. They don't care whether you're big or small or ...

ASMAN: Right. But Fred, my point is, unless they are willing to prosecute 60 million downloaders, it is going to be unequal application of the law.

VON LOHMANN: Well, it is definitely a problem for them. But I think the bigger problem is going to be that I don't think lawsuits are going to change the minds of 60 million people.

ASMAN: Now, I've got to be tough on you. I've been cutting you a break so far, Fred, but what do you think about intellectual property (search)? Everything from books to pharmaceuticals rely on this concept of intellectual property, which is what we're talking about violating if I download some of these songs. Are you against any form of intellectual property?

VON LOHMANN: No, in fact, you know, I'm a copyright lawyer by trade. I think copyright law is a great thing. We just need to make sure that it's updated to keep pace with new technologies. That's what we need to take care of now.

ASMAN: Have you ever downloaded music on the Internet?

VON LOHMANN: Well, I actually have. But one of these filesharing companies is a client of mine. So, the downloads that I've done, to the extent I've done them, I'm happy to say, have been done completely within the scope of the law.

ASMAN: You could, though, violate the law just by admitting that on air, right?

VON LOHMANN: I don't think so. The downloads that I've done have not been the latest Madonna CD, things like that. But I think a lot of people out there are going to be worried and a lot of people's privacy is going to be compromised when their Internet service provider hands over their name and address.

ASMAN: Fred, quick final question. Apple has come out with this pay-for-song method that seems to be catching on, is that a compromise?

VON LOHMANN: The problem is, you need to find some way of making this attractive enough to move these 60 million people over. And so far, the legitimate services just aren't addressing the consumer demand. They're not as flexible. They're not as attractive.

ASMAN: All right. Fred Von Lohmann, let us know what happens with your campaign. Appreciate it.


ASMAN: Good to have you here.

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