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Recording industry sues 532 allegedly swapping music online
Updated: 2004-03-24 17:44

The recording industry sued 532 people, including scores of individuals using computer networks at 21 universities, claiming they were illegally sharing digital music files over the Internet.

This latest wave of copyright lawsuits brought by the Recording Industry Association of America on behalf of recording companies marks the first time the trade group has targeted computer users swapping music files over university networks.

While the trade group sued four college students last year, those suits alleged the students were operating file-sharing hubs that made available tens of thousands of songs to others. The users targeted in Tuesday's slate of suits are accused of swapping music on peer-to-peer networks.

The RIAA filed the ``John Doe'' complaints against 89 individuals using networks at universities in states including Arizona, California, Virginia, New York, Indiana, Maryland, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin as well as the District of Columbia.

Lawsuits against 443 people using commercial Internet access providers were also filed in California, Colorado, Missouri, Texas and Virginia. The recording group did not name which Internet access providers the defendants were using. In all, 27 lawsuits were filed, RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said.

In ``John Doe'' lawsuits, the recording industry must work through the courts to find out the identities of the defendants, which at the outset are only identified by the numeric Internet protocol addresses assigned to computers online.

The defendants, which the trade group claims offered ``substantial amounts'' of music files, face potential civil penalties or settlements that could cost them thousands of dollars. Settlements in previous cases have averaged $3,000 each.

``We are sending a clear message that downloading or 'sharing' music from a peer-to-peer network without authorization is illegal, it can have consequences and it undermines the creative future of music itself,'' RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement.

The recording industry blames lagging music sales in recent years on the rise of online music piracy. File-sharing has become a popular pastime on college campuses, and pressure is intensifying on schools to be vigilant to copyright infringement occurring over their computer networks.

Last year, Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology fought recording industry subpoenas seeking the identities of four students who were suspected of illegal file-sharing over a commercial online service.

The court ultimately sided with the universities, on the grounds that the subpoenas, which were issued in Washington, could not be served in Massachusetts.

Experts say some universities might decide to test the legality of the recording industry subpoenas this time. But the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act only requires universities to give notice to their students before releasing their information, it doesn't prohibit them from doing so, said Evan Cox, a copyright attorney in San Francisco.

John Chandler, a spokesman for California State University, Northridge, one of the schools where the RIAA said it discovered computer users engaging in online piracy, said the university hasn't been asked for any names.

``Cal State Northridge has never been subpoenaed in connection with the RIAA, so we don't have any past history with that,'' Chandler said. ``If and when we were to receive a subpoena, we would review that with our legal counsel and make a determination.''

Including Tuesday's filings, the recording industry has sued 1,977 people since launching its legal assault against online music piracy last fall. The recording group has said that once it discovers a defendant's identity, it would contact them and offer them the chance to settle out of court before proceeding with the case.

To date, roughly 400 defendants have reached out-of-court settlements, an RIAA spokesman said.

Still, the number of people sued by the industry so far represents a small slice of the estimated tens of millions of US music fans who swap music, movies and other media files illegally online.

At any given moment, there are 5 million people swapping files online, said Eric Garland, chief executive of Beverly Hills-based BigChampagne, which tracks activity on file-sharing networks.

``File-sharing is still an emerging technology that continues to get more popular over time,'' Garland said. ``The number of files shared is up, and the variety is up.''

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