A History of Stealing Music

Think stealing music started with Millennials. Nope. Noisey points out that this has been going on a lot longer than most people realize.

Brianna LaHara was 12 years old when the Recording Industry Association of America filed suit against her and her family, seeking damages for illegally downloaded music. She was a serious offender according to the suit, the type of flagrant music pirate who had downloaded in excess of 1000 songs through streaming services.

The international press loved it. LaHara, a pre-teen from an Upper West Side housing project and an honour roll student, had though t that the $29.95 her mother spent downloading Kazaa made the process legal and above board. Better still, she’d downloaded a combination of pop songs and children’s rhymes, a mix of Christina Aguilera and “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Along with 71-year-old Durwood Pickle of Richardson, Texas, Lahara was the least-threatening, least obviously criminal of all the 261 “major offenders” that the RIAA had come for.

Eventually, they settled the case with LaHara’s family out of court for $2000 and a Soviet apology: “I am sorry for what I have done,” LaHara said in a statement at the time. “I love music and don’t want to hurt the artists I love.” LaHara’s mother, Sylvia Torres, backed down from her initial indignation—“This is a 12-year-old girl, for crying out loud” she’d said when the suit was filed—and released a similarly unbelievable statement. The RIAA were “trying to send a strong message,” according to their CEO Mitch Bainwol. They appeared to have succeeded.

The recording industry had been lashing out and panicking about peer-to-peer downloading for a while already, but the spate of lawsuits around the Brianna LaHara case appeared at the time to be something new. Unlike the much-publicized lawsuit that had bankrupted Napster in 1999, these were individual cases taken against private citizens. The RIAA may have played the role of reluctant parents disciplining unruly kids—“Nobody likes playing the heavy,” said RIAA president Cary Sherman—but their intention here was to shock and intimidate.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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