Amnesty Offer from RIAA?

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) may issue a general amnesty to the music fans who have amassed libraries of favorite tunes by downloading them over the Internet, according to information leaked to Billboard, the Hollywood Reporter, and other publications the first week of September.

The trade association also may be willing to forgive many of those who made the tunes available, provided they delete any ill-gotten music from their computers and promise not to engage in file sharing in the future. Anyone wishing to take advantage of the amnesty offer will be required to sign a notarized form—essentially an admission of guilt—in exchange for a promise by the RIAA that it won't sue. The agreement is exactly the opposite of the typical corporate liability settlement, in which a company agrees to compensate a plaintiff without admitting any wrongdoing.

The amnesty won't apply to the approximately 1600 people who have already received subpoenas in the RIAA's crackdown campaign against file sharing, according to the reports. Those folks could face jail sentences of up to five years and fines ranging from $750 to $150,000 per copyright violation.

How many people will go for the offer is anybody's guess. "It will be an interesting measure of how much fear the recording industry has managed to inject into the American public," said attorney Fred von Lohmann, of the San Francisco–based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Signing admissions of copyright violations over the Internet could come back to haunt computer users if other copyright holders decide to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to come after them for other offenses.

In other Internet audio news, Sony Corporation plans to launch a new music download service sometime early next year. The announcement was made September 4 by Howard Stringer, Sony's vice chairman and head of its US businesses, at an electronics industry conference in Paris. Speaking at the Sony Dream World exhibition, Stringer cited the success of Apple Computer's iTunes music service as an indicator that the recorded music business is in the midst of a "sea change."

The yet-to-be-named new service will likely be a joint venture among Sony's music, movie, and electronics sectors, with Sony Electronics rolling out new hardware to support the Internet music service. Sony's previous online music venture, pressplay, was sold to Roxio, Inc in mid-May. That service, a joint venture with Universal Music Group, will be rolled into a reborn Napster to be launched next spring, based on the iTunes model.