Owing half a million dollars?

HOUSTON Teens who use music file sharing web sites could open their parents to huge lawsuits. It's happening to one Houston woman.

Imagine getting a letter saying you are going to be sued for half a million dollars for copyright violations. It's a reality for one very worried Houston mom.

Lorri Jones got a letter this week no parent wants to receive.

"It's designed to get you scared," she said.

The letter is from a law firm representing the Recording Industry Association of America and says it's an important legal notice. It goes on to say Jones used her computer to share 683 copyrighted songs and there is a $750 fine for each song.

"That's $512,250," she said. "Oh my gosh. The record companies are suing me for half a million dollars."

The letter directed Jones to call a settlement number.

"We're going to settle this with you for $4000," said Jones of the call. "That's non-negotiable."

Unable to pay, Jones feels out of options. But there may be something else she can try.

"If this were me, if this happened to me, I would immediately respond with a letter that said I am not going to do this anymore," said University of Houston Law Professor Richard Alderman. "If you would send me the evidence you have that it was done, I will talk to my child. I am not going to accept any responsibility, but I offer "x" dollars."

Alderman says the lawsuit threat should be a warning to every parent whose kids are using web sites to share copyrighted songs. It's a warning echoed by Jay Lee, who hosts a radio program specializing in computer issues.

"I would tell parents to consider removing that software," said Jay Lee, host of the radio show Technology Bytes. "It's primary purpose tends to be at least among adolescents, is the sharing of copyrighted material."

It's interesting to note the letter Jones received claims her computer uploaded songs at three in the morning, a time when no one was actually using her computer, but that's how file sharing software works.

"The computer is doing it on its own," said Lee. "The software is designed to search for and offer up the files."

I spoke to someone at the Recording Industry Association of America, they say about 28,000 of these lawsuit warnings have been sent out in the last few years and the industry has investigators on peer to peer web sites looking for people illegally sharing copyrighted material.

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