By David McGuire washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 21, 2004; 5:32 PM
The recording industry today reignited its legal campaign against online piracy, filing four lawsuits that target 532 people accused of illegally swapping copyrighted music on the Internet.
The Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) legal salvo is the first since a federal appeals court ruling last month restricted the group's ability to track down the identities of suspected file sharers.
Three of the lawsuits were filed in federal court in New York City, while the fourth was filed in the Washington, D.C., federal court.
"The message to illegal file sharers should be as clear as ever: we can and will continue to file lawsuits," said RIAA President Cary Sherman in a telephone conference with reporters today.
The recording industry started taking action against people who trade music online after determining that Internet piracy was contributing to a dramatic drop in album sales. Compact disc sales fell from $943 million in 2000 to $803 million in 2002.
Despite the early success of legal services like Apple's iTunes and Wal-Mart's discounted music downloads, but sharing illegally copied files for free remains a popular online pastime.
Today's lawsuits were filed after a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled on Dec. 19 that the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act does not grant the RIAA special subpoena power to obtain the names of several Verizon Internet customers believed to be trading files online.
Ahead of that ruling, the RIAA used the subpoenas -- which it obtained without a judge's order -- to demand that several major Internet service providers reveal the identities of thousands of suspected file sharers. Information provided by some companies led to copyright infringement lawsuits against 382 people last year and 233 private settlements.
The average settlement amount has been $3,000, even though copyright holders can seek as much as $150,000 per song.
The lawsuits filed today make good on the RIAA's promise last month to continue going after suspected music pirates despite a loss in the Verizon case. Unlike the lawsuits it filed last fall against individual Internet users, the RIAA filed a handful of "John Doe" lawsuits targeting 532 unique "Internet protocol" numbers of Internet customers believed to be sharing music online. The RIAA plans to subpoena respective Internet service providers to obtain the names of people using those IP numbers.