Music Firms Sue 261 Online Song Swappers
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A recording-industry trade group said on Monday it had sued 261 individuals for distributing hundreds of thousands of songs over the Internet without permission, and said many more suits are on the way.
The Recording Industry Association of America said it filed copyright-infringement suits in U.S. courts across the country, marking the first time the group has taken legal action against the millions of Internet users who copy music directly from each others’ hard drives.
Until now, the trade group has focused its courtroom efforts on Kazaa and other “peer to peer” networks that enable such activity, which the industry blames for a decline in CD sales.
“Nobody likes playing the heavy and having to resort to litigation, but when your product is being regularly stolen there comes a time when you have to take appropriate action,” RIAA President Cary Sherman said.
Those facing the lawsuits had opened up their hard drives to other users, making an average of more than 1,000 copyrighted songs available to others over peer-to-peer networks, Sherman said. Users who simply copied songs and did not share their own music collections were not targeted, he said.
One suit filed in New York includes computer “screen shots,” which show a Kazaa user with the nickname “touchofcream” distributing songs by Frank Sinatra and Shania Twain.
“The conduct of Defendant is causing and, unless enjoined and restrained by this Court, will continue to cause Plaintiffs great and irreparable injury that cannot fully be compensated or measured with money,” the lawsuit says.
Sherman said the RIAA continues to investigate online song copying and plans to file thousands more lawsuits.
The trade group also unveiled an amnesty program that would remove the threat of prosecution from those who promise to refrain from such activity in the future and erase all copyrighted music they have downloaded. The program will not be available for those who are already being investigated, he said.
Under U.S. copyright law defendants could face penalties of up to $150,000 per song, but few settlements are likely to involve such large sums. The trade group has already settled several cases for around $3,000 each, Sherman said.
“We expect to hear people say, ‘Well, it wasn’t me, it was my kid.’ If they would prefer that the lawsuit be amended to name the kid, we can certainly do that,” he said.
The president of peer-to-peer service Grokster, which is fighting a courtroom battle of its own with the industry, said the tactic would only waste money and alienate music fans.
“I feel sort of like the Russians fighting Napoleon,” Grokster President Wayne Rosso said, adding that traffic on his network is nearly back to levels it reached before the RIAA announced its intention to sue users in late June.
In addition to Grokster and Kazaa, defendants used the Gnutella, Blubster and iMesh networks, Sherman said. Nearly all had previously received instant-message warnings that the activity was considered illegal, he said.
Musicians’ unions, songwriters and Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, who chairs an intellectual-property subcommittee, praised the RIAA’s move.
Gigi Sohn, who as executive director of the Washington-based nonprofit Public Knowledge frequently clashes with the industry on copyright issues, said she was pleased that lawsuits were only filed against the most blatant violators. But the amnesty program could actually put Internet users at risk because it would not prevent lawsuits from music publishers or other copyright holders, she said, and legal, industry-sanctioned services do not yet provide a compelling alternative.
Separately on Monday, two industry-authorized music services reported strong business. Apple Computer Inc. said it had sold 10 million songs through its iTunes service since it launched in April, while RealNetworks Inc. said traffic on its Rhapsody service had more than doubled during the same period to 16.4 million songs temporarily “streamed” per month.
RIAA members include Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music Group; Sony Corp.’s Sony Music; AOL Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Music; Bertelsmann AG’s BMG; and EMI Group Plc.
Music Firms Sue 261 Online Song Swappers