Washington, Sept. 9 (Reuters): A recording-industry trade group said today 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 (RIAA) said it filed copyright-infringement suits in US 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 programme 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 programme will not be available for those who are already being investigated, he said.
Under US copyright law defendants could face penalties of up to $150,000 per song, but few settlements are likely to involve such large sums.
“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, said the tactic would only waste money and alienate music fans.