Recording Industry Sues 532 More File-Sharers

Greatest number of defendants ever named in single fell swoop since RIAA began litigation campaign in September.

Despite suffering a legal setback last month when a court rejected the recording industry's method for identifying and suing illegal file-sharers, the organization is not slowing down its efforts to curb the practice.

Lawsuits against 532 individual users were filed Wednesday (January 21), the Recording Industry Association of America announced during a telephone press conference. This is the greatest number of defendants ever named in a single fell swoop since the RIAA began its litigation campaign in September. Three hundred eighty-two people were targets of the RIAA's copyright-infringement lawsuits last year.

Unlike the suits filed in 2003, however, this new round employs the "John Doe" process, which means that the individual defendants are not identified by name, only their IP addresses. It's then up to their Internet service providers, by order of a judge-signed subpoena, to match the numerical addresses with actual names. Once ISPs like AOL and Earthlink match the IP addresses with their customers' names, the original complaints are amended to include the defendant's name.

"Our campaign against illegal file-sharers is not missing a beat," RIAA president Cary Sherman said. "The message to illegal file-sharers should be as clear as ever — we can and will continue to bring lawsuits on a regular basis against those who illegally distribute copyrighted music."

Before a federal court of appeals ruled against the RIAA in December (see "RIAA File-Sharing Crusade Hits Major Stumbling Block"), ISPs were required to turn over the names of the customers whom the RIAA believed to be unlawfully uploading copyrighted works with only a subpoena signed by a court clerk, as pursuant to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Last month's appeals-court ruling said the DMCA cannot be used in copyright-infringement cases involving peer-to-peer networks, such as Kazaa and Grokster.

After a judge grants the RIAA's request to start a discovery process in order to identify the online pirates, the ISPs are required to turn over the names as fast as due process allows. The John Doe defendants were grouped into four individual lawsuits — three filed in the Southern District of New York and one in the District of Columbia District Court — to expedite the process. The locations are where the ISPs are based.

The criteria to become a target in the RIAA's crosshairs remains unclear, and defendants were only said to be "egregious offenders." In the press conference, Sherman said that the average defendant was offering 858 files for others to download.

Although the RIAA must take an extra step in the process, the end results are the same. Since the individuals' names are unknown to the RIAA before the litigation is filed, the RIAA has no way of giving the suspected pirates a chance to settle, an olive branch it has extended in the past. Sherman said the copyright-holding organization would still offer a settlement opportunity after learning a defendant's identity but before amending the complaint to include his or her name.

Of the 382 individuals sued thus far, 233 have settled and 100 others are in the process of settling. The average settlement costs users $3,000.

For complete digital music coverage, check out the Digital Music Reports.