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RIAA Sues More Music Traders in New Strategy

Internet music file traders who thought they were in the clear after a court ruling late last year might still find the Recording Industry Association of America looking for them and taking them to court.

The industry association — on a lawsuit campaign to stifle use of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks and applications such as Kazaa, Morpheus and Grokster, which allow users to trade copyrighted music for free — has announced it is suing another 532 computer users whose identities remain unknown.

Although the RIAA has been claiming success in its subpoena-powered legal assault on illegal file-trading — accompanied by the increased availability of legit pay services, such as iTunes, the new Napster and MusicMatch — the recording label group was dealt a serious setback when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the RIAA’s use of subpoenas was improper and had to stop.

Nevertheless, the RIAA is proceeding with additional lawsuits that are now known as “John Doe” suits because the defendants’ names are not known until the suit is filed. “Our campaign against illegal file sharers is not missing a beat,” RIAA president Cary Sherman said in a statement. “The process by which we obtain the identity of defendants has changed, but the enforcement program has not.”

Scared Straight

Claims of success by the RIAA — which filed 382 lawsuits against file sharers last year — were reinforced this month by Pew Internet and American Life project findings that the number of unlicensed P2P users was cut nearly in half.

However, analysts pointed out that an international pool of P2P users and increasing reliance on other forms of file sharing, such as e-mail and instant messaging, are tempering the RIAA’s effectiveness.

Gartner research director Mike McGuire said that although the RIAA might have succeeded in raising awareness that free file sharing is illegal, its success comes at the expense of the recording industry’s “prestige and image.” He added that the RIAA is still missing the point of P2P’s potential. The analyst said the association would be better served by promoting legitimate sites more aggressively.

“It’s really a thin line that they’re walking,” McGuire told TechNewsWorld. “They should have started with a business idea and said: ‘Here’s a distribution system where we can create the best environment and get people to come over to it. Let’s look more at the benefit of getting people to get over to [legitimate] things instead.'”

No More Warning

The RIAA lawsuits, which began last September, were initiated first against the most egregious illegal file traders, RIAA spokesperson Amanda Collins told TechNewsWorld. The RIAA indicated that the newest round of lawsuits — filed in New York and Washington, D.C. — involved the offering of an average of 800 music files.

The RIAA said the newest defendants have been identified so far only by their computer’s Internet Protocol (IP) address. Citing the federal appeals court decision that states the information subpoena process covered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act cannot be used, the RIAA said it will now subpoena the information necessary to identify a defendant once the “John Doe” suits are filed.

The association also said that because of the nature of the new litigation process, the RIAA will not prenotify accused illegal file traders to give them an opportunity to settle before formal filing of lawsuits.

Rip and Repent

The RIAA, which reported it has settled 167 of the 382 suits filed last year, indicated it will not use information gathered with the DMCA subpoena process, but might still pursue the same alleged infringers on the basis of their IP address and the John Doe process.

The group also said it will still offer illegal file traders a chance to settle cases before proceeding with litigation.

However, Gartner’s McGuire said that because there are now more court costs associated with the legal process, the settlements — estimated at US$2,000 to $3,000 but unconfirmed by the RIAA — likely will come at a higher price.

“They’re going to be looking for serious bang for the buck if the suit’s successful,” McGuire said. “That may scare a lot more people a lot more than the last rounds because they may be looking for very high figures.”

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