September 10, 2003 5:38 PM PDT

P2P group: We'll pay girl's RIAA bill

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A peer-to-peer group says it will cover costs for a 12-year-old New York girl who agreed to pay record labels $2,000 to settle a file-swapping lawsuit.

P2P United, a peer-to-peer industry trade group that includes Grokster, StreamCast Networks, LimeWire and other file-trading software companies, said Wednesday it had offered to reimburse Brianna Lahara and her mother's payment to the Recording Industry Association of America. Lahara's mother agreed Tuesday to settle copyright infringement charges on behalf of her daughter.

"We do not condone copyright infringement, but someone has to draw the line to call attention to a system that permits multinational corporations with phenomenal financial and political resources to strong-arm 12-year-olds and their families in public housing the way this sorry episode dramatizes," said Adam Eisgrau, the executive director of P2P United.

Eisgrau said he had not yet been in direct contact with Lahara or her mother.

In the few days since Lahara's unexpected rise into the public eye, the schoolgirl's case has become a cause celebre for RIAA critics, who say the recording industry's wave of lawsuits against file-traders is misguided.

According to a New York Post profile, Lahara is a 12-year-old honors student who lives in public housing. Her name turned up in one of the 261 lawsuits filed by the record industry group on Monday.

Lahara's $2,000 settlement was the first announced deal of what is expected to be many out-of-court agreements. RIAA President Cary Sherman said Monday that a handful of settlement agreements, averaging around $3,000 apiece, were already being negotiated.

In a statement released jointly by the RIAA and Lahara on Tuesday, Lahara said she was "very sorry" for what she had done. According to the RIAA, the girl's computer had illegally been sharing more than 1,000 songs through the Kazaa software.

"We understand now that file-sharing the music was illegal," her mother, Sylvia Torres, added in the statement. "You can be sure Brianna won't be doing it anymore."

The RIAA said the deal with Lahara satisfied its goal of sending a message to file swappers.

"As this case illustrates, parents need to be aware of what their children are doing on their computers," Mitch Bainwol, the group's new chief executive, said in the statement.

Previous targets of RIAA lawsuits have sometimes found financial help from the file-swapping community.

Daniel Peng, a Princeton University junior who agreed to settle file-trading charges with the RIAA for $15,000 earlier this year, has raised nearly $10,000 toward covering his costs from public donations made through PayPal and other online payment services, according to his Web site.

Eisgrau said P2P United had no plans to pay other file-swappers' legal fees. The recently founded group plans to lobby in Washington, D.C., for policies such as compulsory music licensing on peer-to-peer networks, which would force the music companies to allow songs to be traded on file-trading networks in return for some payment to copyright holders.

Also Wednesday, the RIAA released survey results it said showed support for its campaign of lawsuits among average consumers.

In a survey of 803 consumers ages 10 and older, 52 percent of respondents said they were "supportive and understanding of the industry's actions," the RIAA said. About 21 percent said they were "unsupportive and negative." The survey was conducted by polling firm Peter D. Hart Associates.

The poll was taken several days before news of the lawsuits broke.

The group also released data from a similar survey conducted earlier. That survey found that 58 percent of people polled in August knew that it was "against the law to make music available online for others to download for free," compared with just 37 percent of people polled in June.

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