Overseas Recording Groups Go After Music Swappers

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry says individuals in Germany, Denmark, Italy and Canada had been hit with lawsuits, criminal charges, or threatening letters.
The music industry's campaign of lawsuits and threats against song-swappers moved overseas Tuesday as trade groups went after 247 people in Europe and Canada they accused of piracy.

The London-based International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said individuals in Germany, Denmark, Italy, and Canada had been hit with lawsuits, criminal charges, or threatening letters.

The IFPI promised similar actions in other countries in the coming months. National music-industry groups in Sweden and Britain recently began warning users of online song-sharing networks by sending them online instant messages.

"This is our first coordinated effort to take this campaign over the range of countries where file-stealing is a problem," said Allen Dixon, general counsel and executive director of the IFPI, which represents the recording industry worldwide.

The group claims piracy is behind a five-year global decline in music sales. It said worldwide sales of recorded music fell 7 percent in 2002, with a similar plunge expected in 2003 figures.

The Recording Industry Association of America began targeting individual file sharers last fall and has sued 1,977 people. The RIAA has settled some 400 cases, generally for a few thousand dollars each.

The actions in Europe and Canada were taken by national recording industry groups affiliated with the IFPI. The targets were people who made at least hundreds of songs--54,000 tracks in one Danish case--available for distribution and copying on free file-sharing services, Dixon said.

The tactics differed in each country, but in each instance the IFPI hopes to wrest a few thousand dollars in fines or settlements.

More than 120 people in Denmark were sent letters demanding that they stop illegal file-sharing and pay compensation--or face lawsuits. In Germany, 68 people were reported to law enforcement authorities, while 30 Italians were charged with copyright infringement.

In Canada, 29 people were sued on copyright infringement claims.

In most cases, the industry had the full cooperation of Internet service providers in identifying the defendants, except in Canada, where the recording industry filed its cases against unidentified people it hopes to unmask later.

Analyst Phil Leigh of Inside Digital Media said he thought the actions probably would have a chilling effect, as the RIAA cases have. If people are scared into ceasing to share their music collections online, free downloading services like Kazaa will lose their value internationally.

But Leigh pointed out that the U.S. lawsuits came as the industry began to provide strong alternatives to illegal song-swapping--commercial downloading services including iTunes, Napster 2.0, MusicMatch, and Rhapsody. Those services have yet to work out the licensing and logistical issues needed to launch outside the United States.

Leigh expects the music industry to come under fire in Europe and Canada for assuming the RIAA tactic without aggressively launching commercial services there.

So far, licensed commercial download services in Europe are "small little operations," Leigh said.

Cases against individual song swappers have been contentious in the United States, where Verizon Communications Inc. successfully challenged the industry's use of subpoenas to seek identifying information about Verizon's Internet subscribers.

A U.S. appeals court ruled in December that the recording industry can't use the subpoenas to force Internet providers to identify file-swappers unless a lawsuit is first filed. In response, the music industry has sued "John Doe" defendants-- identified only by their numeric Internet addresses--and expects to work through the courts to learn their identities.

Jonathan Zittrain, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, said it's unclear whether the RIAA's lawsuits in the United States have significantly reduced free music downloading.

But he said the cases are part of a broader strategy for the recording industry.

Zittrain believes the industry eventually plans to sue Internet service providers (ISPs) directly for failing to police piracy on their networks. If so, he expects the record labels will point to the individual lawsuits filed in the United States and now in Canada and Europe and say, "Look, we have been trying everything--it hasn't been effective," Zittrain said. "I think the ISPs are quietly worried about it."

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