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New wave of lawsuits to hit 'illegal song-swappers'

IFPI lashes out

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The record industry is targeting nearly 1,000 people in a new wave of lawsuits against alleged "illegal song-swappers" in actions in 11 countries in Europe and Asia.

Following its first year of legal actions in Europe, which resulted in 248 people paying fines or facing "sanctions", the International Federation of the Phonographic Industries (IFPI) said this morning that it will bring lawsuits to four new European countries, specifically the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland and Iceland.

Japan is also joining in the fun, becoming the first Asian country to take legal action against people who use P2P services to trade the record business' wares without payment.

Those found guilty by a court, or who settle with the IFPI, are likely to face compensation payments of thousands of pounds, or euros. Or hundreds of thousands of yen.

The IFPI claimed that the first round of European lawsuits, which began last autumn, have already seen illegal file-sharing fall by one third in Germany, where CD sales have dropped precipitiously in the face of widespread CD-burning. "The number of music files downloaded there fell to 382m files in 2004, compared to 602m the previous year," the IFPI said in a statement.

John Kennedy, the IFPI's chairman, said: "Today, people across Europe can be in no doubt that uploading copyrighted music on to file-sharing networks is against the law, affects jobs, investment in music and livelihoods, and carries the risk of financial penalties. We have spent two years raising public awareness of this, and ignorance really is no longer an excuse."

However Julian Midgley, of the Campaign for Digital Rights, thinks the lawsuits are a bad idea. "The CDR has always stood up for copyright law," he said. "But we will say that we aren't convinced that the record industry is going about keeping its buying public on its best side. There's still plenty of evidence that the people who are using file sharing services buy more music than they would otherwise. And it's obvious that suing your customers isn't likely to make them happy." He said the money being spent on lawsuits could better be used providing more - and cheaper - services like Apple's iTunes Music Store.

The IFPI is also extending the range of P2P services it targets, so that it's not just users of KaZaA who are in its sights, but also those of what it calls "newer" file-sharing services such as eDonkey, eMule, Bearshare, OpenNap, DirectConnect and BitTorrent.

Pretty much everyone who uses such services is now a target of the IFPI. Initially, it is chasing what it calls "uploaders", who let files on their machine be available for download by anyone else using the services. The largest case it has settled was a French man with 56,000 tracks - "equivalent to more than 5,000 CD albums" - in his music library. However people who have "uploaded" even a few hundred tracks are in the spotlight in the latest legal cases.

We wondered whether that didn't mean that the IFPI is targeting people who have large music collections, and are thus in a sense already its best customers. The IFPI disagreed. "The default settings of the file-sharing software makes all your files available, but you can change that," said a spokeswoman for the IFPI.

The IFPI is happy that its strategy - of going after those who make big libraries available, rather than download - is working in a 'softly softly' manner, especially as broadband - the technology it sees as assisting evil file-sharing - spreads. The lawsuits have had "a noticeable effect on file-sharing figures despite the growth of broadband penetration," it said today. "Overall, the number of infringing music files on the internet dropped from its peak of 1.1bn in April 2003 to 870m in January 2005, a drop of 21 per cent. In the same time period global broadband penetration grew by 75 per cent, from 80m to 140m households worldwide."

Last month the British Phonographic Industry won settlements from 23 Britons accused of distributing copyrighted music over file-sharing networks. Three cases are still pending, and expected to reach the courts sometime.

The IFPI's latest assault brings it in line with the US's RIAA, which has filed more than 900 lawsuits, though it made what many saw as the strategic mistake of targeting both downloaders and "uploaders" indiscriminately, leading to bad publicity when one of the first turned out to be a 12-year-old girl. ®

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