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The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has issued the biggest threat to date against online file-traders, saying it will sue thousands of individuals into submission.

Starting Thursday, pigopolist grunts will begin combing P2P networks in search of industrious file traders. Once the RIAA has targeted a large store of copyrighted files, it will serve a subpoena on the user's ISP, grab his/her name and address, and fire off a lawsuit.

"The RIAA expects to use the data it collects as the basis for filing what could ultimately be thousands of lawsuits charging individual peer-to-peer music distributors with copyright infringement," the RIAA said in a statement. "The first round of suits could take place as early as mid-August."

A pair of recent court rulings opened up this means of attack on file-traders. First, a Los Angeles judge in April said P2P service operators could not be held responsible for their users' actions. This decision blocked the RIAA from shutting down large chunks of the P2P community in one go - think Napster - and pushed them toward nailing individuals.

More recently, the RIAA won another decision over Verizon, which gave it permission to see the name and address of the ISP's customers.

Users face civil lawsuits, thousands of dollars in fines and even criminal prosecution. At least the legal action is a more civilized way of conducting business. Sending out fake files and having musicians swear at users are puerile forms of protest.

For now, file traders should swap with caution. The RIAA plans to inject network scanning software out into the vast P2P world and track what files users are looking for and what they trade. If the RIAA bot spots an infringing song, it marks the date and time the file is accessed.

It's unfortunate the government did not have such sophisticated tools when it was examining the music labels' pricing fixing scheme that pushed CD prices higher throughout the 1990s. Maybe then, the labels would been hit with something harder than a slap on the wrist.

Time, perhaps, for a good old-fashioned consumer boycott? ®

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