Free CDs from Lawsuit Soon to Spice Up Library Shelves


A treasure trove of free music on 5.6 million compact discs featuring tunes from Britney Spears to Beethoven is on the verge of flowing to states, thanks to settlement of a class action lawsuit filed by 40 of the states' attorneys general.

Shipments of 1,960 titles of CDs, ranging from classical, jazz, country, rock and pop to Christmas melodies, are to start arriving this spring at public libraries and schools nationwide.

The unusual payoff in CDs, worth $76 million, is part of a deal struck after states in August 2000 accused record company giants Sony, Time Warner, Universal, BMG, Virgin Records and Capitol Records - as well as retailers such as Tower Records, Musicland, and FYE of gouging consumers by fixing CD prices.

While the record industry and retailers admitted no wrongdoing, they agreed in July 2003 to a $143 million settlement to end the legal action: $67 million went directly to 3.5 million consumers who joined the lawsuit and who each received a check for $13.86 in March. The rest is being paid in donated CDs to help make amends with music lovers who missed joining the lawsuit but who might have been stung by companies trying to stop retailers from lowering prices on CDs.

All 50 states are eligible to receive CDs under the settlement.

"This was just another way to give to the public what was lost," said Joann Carin, communications director for the Florida Attorney General's Office, which helped file the case. "In suits that involve consumers, we always try to give it back to those who were wronged. Sometimes you can't find everyone, so you think of other ways to spread the settlement around to those who deserve it."

Public libraries, both large and small, will be the biggest winners in the settlement.

"It's a win-win for everyone," said Luis Herrera, president of the Public Library Association. "Libraries are struggling with budget problems right now, so any additional resources that come our way and that we can make available to the public are welcomed."

The number of CDs each library receives will depend on the size of the library and each state's distribution plan. In some large areas, libraries will literally be given thousands of CDs to add to their music collections. Some states also provide for music to go to public schools and colleges.

Libraries and schools don't get to choose their new inventory. Herrera said the variety of music "pretty much runs the gamut so there will be something for everyone." The federal judge presiding over the case assured consumers that these are "not bargain-basement CDs."

If some of the CDs of modern music contain questionable lyrics that might not be suited for all ages, Herrera suggested, "you can send those to another library." 


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