Facing the Music
The ninth-grader got a rude awakening on Sept. 9 when her father, Terry, 48, whose name is on the family's Verizon DSL account, learned he was one of 261 people being sued by the Recording Industry Association of America for copyright infringement. The potential penalty? Up to $150,000 in fines for each of the more than 1,000 songs his kids had downloaded. Courtney was afraid the family would lose its house. But her dad, a marketing vice president for a building-supply firm, was incensed. "The artists deserve their due," says Terry, who says he goes online primarily to check his e-mail and bank balance and has never downloaded. "But I don't understand why record companies are going after people who have supported them all these years while it's the Kazaas that have made this available."
Across the country the suits were met with a mix of confusion, fear and outrage—but little remorse. Some targets—like Durwood Pickle, 71, of Richardson, Texas—say they wouldn't know how to download even if they wanted to. (Pickle blames his current pickle on the activities of his teen grandkids.) Others, like Kari Davis, a Concord, Calif., 15-year-old whose bus driver mother, Nancy, just paid $3,000 to settle the RIAA suit against the family, say they don't see why downloading is such a big deal. "We buy concert tickets and merchandise; we are still giving them our money," Kari says. "The bands say they only care about the music, but then they turn around and sue you."
Such misconceptions among fans might account for the muted response to the suits from artists who have been vocal about downloading in the past. Early on in the downloading debate, though, stars like Sheryl Crow, Nelly and Madonna denounced downloading largely on the grounds that artists were being deprived of royalties. Others, distrustful of the record firms or viewing downloading as a populist marketing tool, support it, with some acts, including REM, even offering free downloads. "Artists are getting ripped off by file sharing," says the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir, "but they're also being ripped off by this parasitic industry that has grown up around them."
Backlash over the RIAA lawsuits has prompted Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) to plan for hearings in the next few weeks on the controversy. "In many ways the genie is out of the bottle with downloading—we have a generation of kids with no inkling they were doing anything wrong," says Coleman. "The recording industry is trying to fix the problem, but there has got to be a better way to do it."
In the meantime Terry Fitzgerald says he has had to hire a $100-an-hour lawyer to fight the suit against him. Another RIAA target, Lynette Neuman, 54, a Concord, Calif., single mother and accounts payable clerk, wishes she could afford to. "In the '60s we had cassettes we would tape off of and that wasn't a problem. Now we have all this technology and we get sued for using it," Neuman says. "I thought we were just sharing music, not stealing it." Like millions of others, she knows now.
Tom Duffy in Haydenville, Mass., Jane Sims Podesta in Washington, D.C., and Johnny Dodd in Los Angeles