RIAA at it again

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Record Industry Sues 754 for Internet Song Swaps

Thu Dec 16, 4:04 PM ET

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A recording industry trade group said Thursday that it has filed another wave of lawsuits against 754 people it suspects of distributing songs over the Internet without permission.

The Recording Industry Association of America has now sued more than 7,000 people for distributing its songs over “peer to peer” networks like eDonkey and Kazaa, in an effort to discourage the online song copying that it believes has cut into CD sales.

The RIAA typically settles copyright infringement suits for around $5,000 each.

Despite more than a year of headline-grabbing lawsuits, peer-to-peer use has not declined. An average of 7.5 million users were logged on to peer-to-peer networks in November 2004, up from 4.4 million in November 2003, according to the research firm BigChampagne.

The four major labels – Vivendi Universal, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, EMI Group Plc and privately held Warner Music – have recently begun to license their songs to a new generation of online services as a way to slash distribution costs and reach out to fans.

But recording-industry officials remain at loggerheads with software makers like Grokster and Morpheus that allow users to freely copy their songs.

“With legal online retailers still forced to compete against illegal free networks, the playing field remains decidedly unbalanced,” said RIAA president Cary Sherman in a statement.

Courts so far have declined to declare peer-to-peer software makers like Grokster and Morpheus illegal because, like a photocopier, they do not permit copyright infringement but merely make it possible.

The Supreme Court will hear the entertainment’s case against Grokster and Morpheus in March.

The latest round of lawsuits included students at Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, Old Dominion University and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Under pressure form the RIAA, many schools have taken steps to limit file sharing and at least 20 schools give students free access to industry-sanctioned download services like Roxio Inc.‘s Napster

The RIAA does not yet know the names of those it has sued, only the numerical addresses used by their computers. The trade group typically finds out suspects’ identities from their Internet service providers during the legal proceedings.