The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has settled the first of 261 lawsuits it filed this week – against a 12-year old girl who was downloading nursery rhymes. The US Congress, meanwhile, is urging the industry to find a new way to protect copyright online.

The RIAA is chasing file sharers it claims to have uploaded over 1,000 files. It wants thousands of dollars in damages, and has been subpoenaing individuals and ISPs to track down perpetrators. The litigation is an escalation of the group's battle against file sharers.

The chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday asked copyright holders and ISPs to find an alternative way to protect songs and movies on the Internet than a provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allows copyright holders to subpoena the names of file traders from ISPs.

Child-abuse fear Senator Orrin Hatch said he agreed with many of the DMCA objections raised yesterday by Verizon Communications, which has fought subpoenas from the RIAA seeking the names of four accused Verizon subscribers.

This year, Verizon lost two court rulings on its challenges to DMCA subpoenas. This means any copyright holder can request a subpoena through a court clerk, not a judge. Verizon said that government prosecutors don't have the same power to subpoena criminals that the RIAA has to subpoena suspected copyright violators.

"Without a judge to oversee the subpoena, there's nothing stopping stalkers or paedophiles from claiming to be copyright holders and getting the names of Internet users", Verizon warned.

Hatch now wants bimonthly updates from the RIAA, Verizon and other interested parties on whether subpoenas are being abused: "I have no doubt that (the DMCA) is not perfect," he said. "On the other hand, I think we may be able to resolve some of these problems in a way that would be mutually beneficial."

Privacy suicide The RIAA argues that peer-to-peer users should not expect privacy because they commit "privacy suicide" by opening their hard drives to millions of other users.

The group has settled with one "privacy suicide" – the mother of 12-year-old Kazaa user Brianna Lahara. Lahara was Tuesday's New York Post cover story in a report describing the youg girl as being scared and tearful when she discovered she was being sued. Her mother is paying $2,000 to the RIAA in settlement.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation criticized the RIAA, saying: "Suing 12-year-olds isn't actually achieving anything from the consumers point of view."

Raymond James and Associates analyst and vice president Phil Leigh has criticized the RIAA's tactics. While file trading activity has shrunk, so have CD sales as the labels undermine their relationship with consumers, who now see the music business as litigious and unfriendly.

"The initial data suggests the fundamental premise underlying their deterrence strategy is flawed. Specifically, curtailing file trading may not improve CD sales, but instead may accelerate their decline," he said.

This week's Macworld Online's Reader Poll is asking how readers download music. Do you use iTunes, peer-to-peer, a service supported by Mac user Peter Gabriel's OD2 company, or do you prefer vinyl? Vote in the poll in the area to the left of this page, or have your say in the debate.