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Thursday, December 04, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

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Industry accuses five in state of music file-sharing, sues

By Kim Peterson and Tricia Duryee
Seattle Times technology reporters

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The long arm of the recording industry reached into Washington yesterday as five residents were sued in federal court for allegedly distributing music from their computers illegally.

The suits were part of a new round of legal action by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which has filed 341 lawsuits since it launched a crackdown against individuals in September. The association filed 41 new lawsuits this week and sent 90 lawsuit-notification letters to those targeted for legal action.

The RIAA said the Washington residents being sued were allegedly sharing thousands of songs online illegally, including such tunes as "You May Be Right" by Billy Joel, "Hey Ladies" by Destiny's Child and "Human Nature" by Michael Jackson.

The court documents include little information about the defendants except their names.

One of those from Washington state named in a suit was Lonette Dominguez. A Kent woman by that name said she received an e-mail last spring from Comcast, her Internet-service provider, saying that it was going to release some of her information to the RIAA because she had downloaded music.

She also remembers receiving a letter in the mail about the issue, but doesn't remember who it was from. Dominguez said yesterday evening that she had not been served with a lawsuit or received word that she was being sued.

"It's my computer, but my daughter and son were the ones doing it. I had no idea," the social worker said. Her children, both teenagers, were using the popular file-sharing software KaZaA, she added.

Her daughter said in an interview yesterday that she mainly buys compact discs, but had downloaded about five songs. She stopped after her mother told her to do so.

"I usually have all the CDs," she said. "I just wanted some songs on the computer."

Dominguez said she thinks the recording industry is to blame for some of the mess.

"These are my kids that are downloading music and they thought it was free," she said. "They don't understand the ramifications of the business aspect in the recording business. They are on the opposite side of that."

The RIAA has been targeting people who make their music files available to others over the Internet, rather than those who download music illegally. But because some file-sharing programs share downloaded music by default, some people might not realize they may be at risk of being sued.

It is unclear whether the RIAA's legal tactics are actually persuading people to stop trading music illegally. The association released a survey yesterday showing that 64 percent of about 800 Americans polled last month understand that it's illegal to share music online that others can download free. That's up from 37 percent a year ago.

But statistics show that about 60 million Americans are still sharing music files online, said Jason Schulz, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco group defending those who are being mistakenly sued by the RIAA.

"I think the 60 million number speaks far more to what Americans still believe," he said. Schulz called the RIAA's actions an "intimidation campaign" to try to scare people from file sharing.

"In our mind that's no way to treat potentially their best customers," he said.

Most of the RIAA's lawsuits have targeted people in Los Angeles or New York, but the suits filed this week span the country.

It isn't the first time that a Washington resident has been sued over this issue, however. Ridgefield, Clark County, resident Ernest Brenot, 79, was sued recently even though he doesn't even own a computer, said his wife, Dorothy.

Brenot lives with his son-in-law, daughter and grandson, who share a computer, and they signed up for high-speed Internet access through Brenot's Comcast cable account, said Dorothy Brenot.

Ernest Brenot sent handwritten letters explaining the situation to a clerk of the court in Tacoma and to the RIAA's lawyers in Seattle, only to receive more court papers filed against them, Dorothy Brenot said.

"I guess you could say I'm disturbed," she said. "I had no idea what was going on with this music to start with. Not owning a computer, I wasn't interested in it."

The RIAA doesn't know anything about the people it sues aside from their name, address and the songs being allegedly shared illegally on their computers, according to a spokesman. The ones who are sued are generally those whose names are on the household's Internet-service account.

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or

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