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The recording industry is seeking to settle more claims out of court against people it suspects of illegally downloading copyrighted music, even as it presses Internet service providers to increase record-keeping on those who may be sued. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said its members will offer to settle the claims “at a discounted rate” if Internet service providers (ISPs) notify customers of a potential lawsuit early and agree to keep records related to the customers for 180 days, according to a Jan. 31 letter from the RIAA to the ISPs. Members of the association, including Capitol Records Inc. and Sony BMG Music Entertainment, have filed thousands of lawsuits in federal court since September 2003 to stop the free online exchange of music produced by the record companies. While the record companies have mainly settled the cases, plaintiffs have forced the companies to drop some lawsuits. “We are hopeful that, by providing early and accurate information to subscribers, we can greatly diminish the need for prolonged litigation,” the letter said. The National Law Journal confirmed the authenticity of the letter to ISPs after it was posted on the Web site of Pike & Fischer, a business consultancy that is a unit of BNA Inc. A spokeswoman for the RIAA declined to comment on the letter. The record companies have referred questions on the matter to the association. The new option The lawsuits have targeted people who share music on peer-to-peer networks, which rely on the computing power of the users in the network instead of a central server. In the past, record companies have typically sued for $750 per downloaded song and have offered to settle for a minimum of $3,750, defendants’ attorneys said. Under the new option, the record companies would reduce the settlement rate by $1,000 or more if an ISP agrees to give targeted subscribers early notification of the claims and the customer responds before a lawsuit is filed, the letter said. The ISP would still have to agree to maintain the log files of the targeted customer in case settlement discussions fail and the companies decide to pursue a lawsuit, the letter said. The association asked the ISPs to respond as soon as possible as to whether they were willing to go along with the new approach. The association provided a “model” letter that could be sent to targeted customers, telling them that their records were being preserved and that they should contact the record companies directly. “It’s entirely geared as a way to convince the ISPs to cooperate with the RIAA so the litigation will be less expensive,” said Neil Netanel, an intellectual property professor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. Critics speak up Some lawyers who have opposed the litigation questioned whether the association had softened its tactics or just allowed collection of more information from people targeted for lawsuits while reducing ISP interference. “They are doing nothing to make the process fairer,” said Ray Beckerman, a New York attorney at Vandenberg & Feliu who has represented some defendants in the cases. “They are trying to make the process even more one-sided than it has been to date by recruiting the ISPs to go even further down the path of betraying their own customers.” Internet service providers give contact information for the targeted customers to the record companies after they get subpoenas related to the lawsuits, which are initially filed against Jane and John Does based on numerical identification related to the illegal downloading. The RIAA also encouraged the ISPs to make sure they are passing along accurate contact information because in the past there have been “a number of problems,” such as identification of a person who was not even a subscriber with the service at the time of the specified copyright infringement, the letter said.

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