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RIAA Plans Lawsuits Against File Traders

The chief lobby group of the nation’s major recording labels today said it is preparing hundreds of lawsuits against Internet users who illegally trade copyrighted music files.

The lawsuits will target people who share “substantial” amounts of copyrighted music, but anyone who shares illegal files is at risk, RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a conference call today. The first round of lawsuits will be prepared during the next eight to 10 weeks. They will ask for injunctions and monetary damages against file swappers, Sherman said.

“We have no hard and fast rules about how many files you have to be distributing” to be targeted in the RIAA sweep, he said. “Any individual computer user who continues to steal music will face the very real risk of having to face the music.”

There are 57 million Americans who use file-sharing services today, according to Boston-based research firm the Yankee Group. Among the most popular are Kazaa, Morpheus and Grokster, which became prominent after the pioneering Napster service was shut down under a judicial order in 2001. Kazaa says that its file sharing software has been downloaded more than 200 million times.

The announcement is part of an attempt to rid the Internet of illegitimate versions of copyrighted works as it tries to find a way to encourage legitimate music download services. The RIAA has said that file-sharing services exist for few other reasons.

Record companies say file sharing is to blame for more than a billion dollars in lost CD sales, as well as millions in shrinking profits. The RIAA has focused most of its efforts on shutting down peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, but a federal judge in Los Angeles in April ruled that the sites have legal uses and should not be shut down. The recording industry instead is pursuing individual file traders.

The ruling came a day after another federal judge ruled that the RIAA could force Verizon Communications Inc., to hand over the names of four of its high-speed Internet service customers who were illegally trading large amounts of copyrighted music on the Kazaa network.

The Los Angeles decision helped pave the way for the RIAA’s latest legal attack, said Sherman, who confirmed that the RIAA would use its subpoena power to obtain the names of file sharers from Internet providers.

File sharing “is not anonymous. You are engaging in an activity that’s every bit as public as setting up a stall at a local flea market,” he said.

Sherman said the RIAA is not targeting people who use P2P networks only for downloading, but he warned that the networks often contain technology that allows members to tap other users’ hard drives to make copies of music files. That process can make a digital fence out of an unwitting network user, he said.

He pointed people to the Musicunited.org Web site, which contains instructions for uninstalling file-sharing programs and for disabling the functions that open users’ music libraries to pirates.

Wayne Rosso, president of the West Indies-based Grokster file-trading service, said the RIAA’s tactics are “nothing short of lunacy.”

“I can’t wait to see what happens when a congressman or senator’s child is sued,” he said. “They’ve taken leave of their senses. They lost their [Los Angeles] lawsuit against us and they’re pissed about it, so their answer is to sue their customers.

“We know this piracy is wrong and can’t go on, but for God’s sake, they won’t work with us under any circumstances,” he added.

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