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Singer gets tough with music scofflaws

Along with renters fighting landlords over security deposits and motorists seeking restitution for botched brake jobs, small claims court in Santa Monica, Calif., on Tuesday will become an unlikely playing field in the battle over unauthorized distribution of music.

Singer-songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins will ask a judge to award her $324, the total three fans paid for three leaked copies of her forthcoming album, "Wilderness," that were sold by an eBay vendor months before the official release date of April 20.

"If I win, I'm sending the money to the fans" who bought the unauthorized CDs, Hawkins said Thursday. "It's scary to do this because when you go to court, anything can happen. But this was the only thing that made me feel good."

Hawkins heard from fans in December about an advance copy of "Wilderness," her first release for her own label, being auctioned on eBay for $300, and that more copies were being listed.

After advising eBay officials that the CDs were promotional copies not for sale, she said, they canceled the additional auctions. Yet despite a cease-and-desist letter from her lawyer, the seller contacted bidders independently and sold two more copies for $12 each.

"I don't care about the $324, although to some of my fans that's a lot of money," she said. "I felt like [suing in small claims court] was the best of all the bad choices. I decided not to go after the big bucks and get a bunch of lawyers and sue for thousands for copyright infringement.

"I wanted to make this about what it really was about," said Hawkins, who lives in Santa Monica. "It's a weird thing. I was not wanting to be on a major label, but now I understand what major labels are going through.

"I'm not stressed about the one or two CDs here; I had to make a statement. I think more artists should take a stand, and the more they do, the more they'll make people who do this look like schmucks."

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