Mother faces music over girl's downloading

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A mother whose teenage daughter was caught illegally downloading thousands of music files to her computer is being sued after the family were targeted by lawyers acting for the music industry body, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).

Sylvia Price, 53, was incredulous when she got a letter from a law firm acting for the BPI demanding she pay a £2,500 settlement fee or face court proceedings. She says she had no idea her daughter, Emily, 14, had been downloading music, her confusion compounded by the fact that she is unfamiliar with computers.

But the BPI maintain that, as the holder of the internet account, she is legally liable to pay the settlement. As part of their latest effort to target those illegally downloading music, which the industry estimates costs £2.3bn a year in lost sales, the body has issued 90 such orders in the past few months, focusing on those considered the most prolific offenders.

Almost all of those issued with a letter have been paid without challenge, Matt Phillips, a BPI spokesman, said adding he "strongly suspects" as many as a third of those who have settled so far have been parents paying on behalf of children.

Comparing the illegal downloading of music, or illegal filesharing, to shoplifting, Mr Phillips said: "Parents have to be aware of the dangers of leaving children to do as they please on the internet unsupervised, and be aware that if they fileshare, they face potential litigation. We have made great efforts to raise awareness of the dangers, but obviously, in some cases, that is not getting through."

If Mrs Price does not pay within two weeks, the £2,500 fee will rise to £4,000. She says she has no way of paying on time. "I don't know where I'm going to get the money from. I'm worried. I arrived home from work to find this letter and I don't know what to do. I don't even know how to use a computer. I've never even switched one on. I just pay the bills."

As in many families, the computer was primarily intended for her daughter's homework, meaning Mrs Price was unable to carry out continual supervision as to what Emily was using the computer for, she said.

After being made aware of the practice of filesharing through a television programme, Mrs Phillips confronted her daughter but she denied any knowledge. BPI's law firm, Wiggin & Co, said that Emily had been breaking the law for two years. Emily admits downloading 1,400 songs to her computer, including albums by her favourite bands Oasis and Coldplay. For her part, she insists she had no idea she what she was doing was illegal. She said: "Everyone I know at school does it. I download songs from other people's files but didn't know it was wrong".