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The Recording Industry Association of America has signaled a major strategy shift in its war against the downloading of copyrighted music, saying it would largely abandon its practice of suing violators. Instead, the RIAA will work with internet service providers to sever abusers' net connections.

Friday's announcement caps a controversial five-year legal campaign in which the RIAA sued more than 30,000 accused file sharers. The lawsuits quickly turned into a public relations disaster as grandmothers and single mothers got dragged into court based on sometimes specious evidence.

Under the new plan, the RIAA will send notices to ISPs that identify the IP addresses of suspected file sharers. ISPs will then send warnings to their customers and then cut them off if the users fail to curb their illegal downloads. Details are still being worked out, but most reports said downloaders might lose their net connection after the third notice. The termination could last anywhere from three months to a year.

According to Wired.com, the Motion Picture Association of America is considering a similar strategy. MPAA officials are meeting with their counterparts at ISPs, the website reported.

The RIAA left open the possibility of suing repeat offenders.

The new approach may not be enough to silence RIAA critics, who have long complained the association abuses its power. To many, internet connections are essential lifelines to school, work, and other important parts of daily life. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other RIAA foes aren't likely to sit by idly while 75-year-old ladies lose their Comcast connection over allegations record label investigators found an OutKast album in her download folder.

Stay tuned. This fight isn't over. It's just going into a new round. ®

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