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A Rhode Island couple whose son is accused of illegally sharing songs online should not be forced to surrender their home computer for inspection because it would violate their right to privacy, their lawyer argued at a federal court hearing Tuesday.

Joel Tenenbaum, a 25-year-old Boston University graduate student, is accused by the Recording Industry Association of America of downloading at least seven songs and making 816 music files available for distribution on the Kazaa file-sharing network through 2004.

The recording industry's lawsuit against him is part of an aggressive campaign targeting people who share music online. The industry says it has lost more than $3 billion because of peer-to-peer networks that enable Internet users to share large numbers of songs online.

Record company lawyers believe Tenenbaum downloaded the songs on his parents' computer in Providence and urged a federal magistrate on Tuesday for permission to copy the machine's hard drive for proof of copyright infringement.

"The information on the computer is directly relevant and material to the underlying claims in this case," said attorney Daniel Cloherty.

But Charles Nesson, a Harvard Law School professor representing Arthur and Judie Tenenbaum and their son, said the computer contains information protected by attorney-client privilege and holds other sensitive and personal material that has nothing to do with the case.

"You can hardly imagine anything more intrusive than asking anyone to disgorge a computer," said Nesson, who is also challenging in U.S. District Court in Boston the constitutionality of a federal copyright law that the music industry has used to target song-swappers.

Nesson also argued that the computer was not the one on which the alleged downloading took place. Judie Tenenbaum has said in an affidavit that the couple bought the computer after their son had left home, and that he had used it only occasionally to check his e-mail during visits.


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