- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The recording industry yesterday cast its widest net yet to stop people from illegally distributing music files.

The Recording Industry Association of America filed lawsuits against 532 persons in courts in New York and the District of Columbia in the fourth round of lawsuits since beginning its unpopular legal campaign in September.

Targets of the new lawsuits represent the largest pool of defendants the music industry has sued at one time. It is the first wave of suits since a federal appeals court ruled last month that Internet service providers don’t have to give the names of subscribers the industry believes are engaged in file sharing unless a judge forces them to divulge the information.

Even while last month’s decision makes it more difficult for the industry to track down file sharers by prolonging litigation, people heading the effort to stop file sharing said in a conference call with reporters yesterday that they are as determined as ever to protect copyrighted music.

“The process by which we identify file sharers has changed, but the program has not. … We can and will bring lawsuits against” file sharers, said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America.

Under the new legal approach, music industry lawyers are filing suits against defendants known only to the record labels by their Internet protocol addresses. The defendants are customers of four Internet service providers and likely are spread throughout the country, even though the suits were filed in only the District and in New York.

“We don’t know where they are. They could be anywhere in the country,” Mr. Sherman said.

The recording industry declined to name the four Internet service providers.

Each defendant is named as John Doe.

After the record labels file a John Doe suit, they can subpoena the information necessary to name a defendant. If a judge approves a subpoena and they learn a person’s identity, the record companies can amend a complaint to add the name.

The John Doe suits are preferable to the music industry’s prior legal approach because they force the industry to prove a person has shared music files, said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a Washington public-interest advocacy group that focuses on technology policy and intellectual property issues.

The John Doe approach also gives people accused of illegally distributing song files about two weeks — after a lawsuit is filed but before one’s name is turned over to the recording industry — to defend themselves from charges, said Sarah Deutsch, Verizon vice president and corporate attorney.

“The good news for consumers is that this process is going to play out in front of a judge,” she said.

People targeted in the new wave of lawsuits had an average of 858 song files on their computer hard drives, Mr. Sherman said.

“They fell into the category of egregious” file sharers, he said.

People sued in the initial round of lawsuits in September weren’t warned about the legal action and had no chance to respond to charges before their names were turned over to the recording industry. In two subsequent rounds of lawsuits, defendants had a chance to settle before the record labels filed formal charges.

Mr. Sherman said that after music industry lawyers discover the identities of defendants, they will contact each person to negotiate a financial settlement before amending the lawsuit to formally name them.

The recording industry filed 382 lawsuits before yesterday’s wave of new lawsuits. It has settled with 233 persons and has agreements in principle with more than 100 others. Defendants have settled for an average of $3,000.

Defendants in John Doe suits may face fines that cost thousands of dollars more because those suits will increase the time and cost of the industry’s dragnet.

“The price of settlement may therefore rise, but in the end, we really do settle these on a case-by-case basis,” Mr. Sherman said.

A study released Jan. 4 by the Pew Internet and American Life Project in Washington indicates file sharing has fallen since the music industry began suing people who illegally distribute copyrighted music.

A phone survey of 1,358 Internet users showed the percentage of music downloaders had fallen to 14 percent, or about 18 million users, from 29 percent, or about 35 million users, when Pew asked the same question during a survey conducted from March through May last year.

“While the picture is improving, the job isn’t done,” Recording Industry Association of America Chairman Mitch Bainwol said. “What we do know for certain is that awareness has shot through the roof,” he said.

While the legal campaign to stop file sharers has been the target of criticism because of the music industry’s relentless pursuit of people distributing song files and the steep fines levied against them, critics of the legal campaign aren’t asking the right question, said Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America.

“The question shouldn’t be ‘why is the RIAA suing people?’” he said. “It should be ‘why are people stealing music?’”

Copyright law allows the record labels to collect $750 to $150,000 for each song file distributed illegally.

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