A five-minute primer on an issue making headlines Exactly what is the legal situation so far? Two Hongkongers were sued by local record labels last month for the first time for downloading and sharing pirated music on the internet. About 20 people have been asked to pay for music allegedly downloaded and shared. Writs have been issued to people who ignored these requests. Who is doing this? The local music industry: Cinepoly, Emperor Entertainment Group, Go East Entertainment, Gold Label Entertainment, Song BMG Music Entertainment (Hong Kong), Universal Music and Warner Music, represented by the Hong Kong chapter of the International Federation of Phonographic Industry. Why are they doing this? They claim they are losing $1 billion a year in sales because of illegal music downloading on the internet. This happened out of the blue? No. Last year, record companies sent more than 30,000 cease-and-desist warnings to the internet service providers of people found sharing music illegally on the internet. Largely ignored, the firms then sent instant messages. That also failed as a deterrent, which led to letters being sent and the court writs. If I download music illegally, can record firms find me? Well, the record firms tracked the internet addresses of the computer users. They then successfully asked the courts to order the internet service providers in Hong Kong to release the identities and details of these users. But I don't use a computer. Neither did Yeung Chun-choi, an unemployed computer-illiterate who did not know how to switch on his PC. He was sued by the record labels because it was believed his daughters downloaded music while they were doing homework. A woman was also served a writ for downloading and uploading music from local bands and boy band Westlife. How do the record companies decide whom to sue? IFPI Hong Kong has refused to say how it selects people to be sued out of the potential tens of thousands of local music pirates - whether it is done alphabetically or based on the number of songs shared by the offender. But it has said that so far, all the people being contacted had tried to upload songs intentionally. How much were they sued for? Both writs were for unspecified sums, which probably means as much as the record companies can recover. But in the United States, where the record industry has sued more than 11,000 people, the average settlement is US$3,600. So far, in the two years since the Recording Industry Association of America began suing computer users, about 2,500 cases in the US have been settled. The maximum that a person can be sued for downloading a song in the US is US$150,000.