"People should not be confused. Some people think the Verizon case means that you can go ahead and get back on a service and trade files," said Mitch Glazier, the RIAA's senior vice president for government relations. "We're not going to just sit and do no enforcement while the courts are figuring out the Verizon case."
The RIAA will continue to pursue out-of-court settlements, but the average amount could rise because filing anonymous lawsuits costs the association more than its previous subpoena process, Sherman said.
The John Doe lawsuits are less controversial in the eyes of some of the RIAA's adversaries. Verizon Associate General Counsel Sarah Deutsch last week encouraged the RIAA to file the lawsuits, saying that they provide defendants with more privacy protection than was offered by the looser administrative subpoena process that the appeals court panel ruled inappropriate in December.
Greg Bildson, chief operating officer of LimeWire, a New York-based file-sharing company, said the John Doe lawsuits are preferable to the glut of subpoenas issued before the Verizon ruling.
"They're at least getting closer to being appropriate, but they're still abusing the music enthusiasts with these lawsuits, which in the long run can't be good for business," Bildson said.
LimeWire is among a handful of file-sharing services that have petitioned the RIAA and Congress to create a licensing program that would make copyrighted file sharing legal.
Gigi Sohn, president of Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties group Public Knowledge, said that the RIAA sees "the handwriting on the wall."
"[They] need to do this in a way that preserves people's due process," she said. "It's better than the way they were doing it before."
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who opposes the legal campaign, said, "While the industry has every right to protect its intellectual property, lawsuits should not be the primary means by which they do so."
The RIAA has argued in the past that the subpoena power it asserted under the 1998 copyright law were in the best interests of defendants -- since it gave the RIAA the opportunity to approach alleged Internet music pirates privately about a settlement. In its ruling last month, the appeals court said that Verizon and other Internet providers cannot be held responsible for material that passes through their networks.
Meanwhile, studies produce mixed commentary on whether the file-sharing ranks are growing or shrinking.
A recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that the number of American Internet users who said they downloaded music online fell from 29 percent in the spring of 2003 (before the RIAA campaign began) to 14 percent in November and December.
But that does not mean that the numbers are on the wane, said Eric Garland, chief executive of Big Champagne, an Atlanta-based company that tracks activity on the peer-to-peer networks that people use to trade files.
"What's a great finding from the Pew study is that downloading music has joined the ranks of social taboos," said Garland. "What it means is not that they're not doing these things, but they've wised up and they're not talking about doing these things."
The number of American households downloading digital music went up 14 percent between September and November 2003, according to a report released earlier this month by the NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y. The findings were based on NPD's MusicWatch service which monitors the computers of 40,000 online "panelists."