WASHINGTON — Move over, college kids. Grandparents and roommates may be the first ones to pay for downloading songs on the Internet.
The music industry’s earliest subpoenas, issued as part of a high-stakes campaign to cripple online piracy by suing some of music’s biggest fans, are aimed at a surprisingly eclectic group: a grandfather, an unsuspecting dad and an apartment roommate.
“Within five minutes, if I can get hold of her, this will come to an end,” said Gordon Pate of Dana Point, Calif., when told by The Associated Press that a federal subpoena had been issued over his daughter’s downloads.
The papers required an Internet provider, Comcast Cable Communications Inc., to hand over Pate’s name and address.
Pate, 67, confirmed that his 23-year-old daughter, Leah Pate, had installed file-sharing software using an account cited on the subpoena. But he said his daughter would stop immediately and the family did not know using such software could result in a stern warning, expensive lawsuit or criminal prosecution.
The president of the Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group for the largest music labels, said lawyers will pursue downloaders regardless of personal circumstances because it would deter other Internet users.
“The idea really is not to be selective, to let people know that if they’re offering a substantial number of files for others to copy, they are at risk,” Cary Sherman said. “It doesn’t matter who they are.”
Over the coming months this may be the Internet’s equivalent of shock and awe, the stunning discovery by music fans across America that copyright lawyers can pierce the presumed anonymity of file-sharing, even for computer users hiding behind nicknames.
In Charleston, W.Va., college student Amy Boggs said she quickly deleted more than 1,400 music files on her computer after the AP told her she was the target of a subpoena.
Since Boggs used her roommates’ Internet account, the roommates’ name and address were being turned over to music industry lawyers.
“This scares me so bad I never want to download anything again,” said Boggs, who turned 22 on Thursday. “I never thought this would happen. There are millions of people out there doing this.”
In homes where parents or grandparents may not closely monitor the family’s Internet use, the news could be especially surprising. A defendant’s liability can depend on their age and whether anyone else knew about the music downloads.
Bob Barnes, a 50-year-old grandfather in Fresno, Calif., and the target of a subpoena, acknowledged sharing “several hundred” music files.
He said he used the Internet to download hard-to-find recordings of European artists because he was unsatisfied with modern American artists and grew tired of buying CDs without the chance to listen to them first.