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Last month, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) trumpeted its latest wave of settlement letters sent to universities at which more than 500 students have been accused of illegally downloading copyrighted music. But the RIAA didn’t sign the letters. At the end of the letters were the names of lawyers from Holme, Roberts & Owen, the RIAA’s national counsel for copyright infringement litigation brought against individuals. For nearly two years, the 240-lawyer Denver firm has managed music piracy suits for the RIAA, whose members make or distribute 90% of the nation’s sound recordings. The numbers are daunting: Since 2003, the RIAA has filed 21,000 legal actions against individuals for infringement, about a third of which have settled. This year, the RIAA began a new program designed to settle with unnamed infringers who are identified through computer encryption techniques at college campuses before filing lawsuits against them. So far, the trade group has sent 2,926 letters to the universities, including the latest batch. “The sheer magnitude of these cases requires a lot of effort,” said Richard Gabriel, a partner at Holme Roberts who oversees the RIAA cases at the firm. In 2003, Holme Roberts, after successfully handling cases for Sony Music Entertainment Inc., served as local counsel for the RIAA in Colorado, Utah and California. But in 2006, the firm won the bid to become RIAA’s national counsel. RIAA had previously used two other firms: Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp of Los Angeles and Shook, Hardy & Bacon of Kansas City, Mo. Holme Roberts “impressed us as a skilled group of lawyers with the right background for this type of engagement, who could render excellent legal service in a cost-effective manner,” said Cara Duckworth, spokeswoman for the RIAA, in a prepared statement. Three teams To handle the workload, Holme Roberts set up three teams to handle various stages of the litigation, said Gabriel, who oversees RIAA cases at the firm. One team culls data on potential infringers identified by investigators at SafeNet Inc., a firm that specializes in encryption. Another team oversees settlements. An outsourced call center in Overland Park, Kan., fields communications from defendants who are interested in settling, but the lawyers draft the documents and conduct the negotiations with the defendants, Gabriel said. Earlier this year, Holme Roberts set up a Web site, www.p2plawsuits.com, on which some individual defendants are allowed to settle their claims anonymously. A third team handles the litigation, which includes substantive motions and depositions, Gabriel said. The team also works with local counsel at more than 40 firms who sign and review pleadings and appear at status conferences or preliminary hearings. Unlike previous actions taken against individual defendants, the college campus program offers accused infringers the opportunity to settle the dispute at a discount. “That gives them a chance to settle early,” Gabriel said. “And they can settle anonymously.” But Ray Beckerman, a partner at New York-based Vandenberg & Feliu, a defense lawyer in six RIAA cases, criticized the tactics. “They don’t negotiate, they don’t compromise,” he said. “They give you a demand, and you either pay it or you don’t pay it.” If students choose not to settle, Holme Roberts asks a judge to grant a subpoena in order to identify the alleged infringer. Last month, several record companies voluntarily dismissed a case involving students at the University of South Florida after some of the defendants filed a motion to quash the subpoena. Interscope Records v. Does, No. 8:07-cv-01008 (M.D. Fla.).

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