The Recording Industry Association filed 532 new lawsuits against music fans for illegally distributing songs over the internet. The number of suits -- filed in New York and Washington, D.C. -- is more than double the RIAA's previous offensive against piracy, when 261 computer users were targeted last summer.
"The debate isn't digital versus plastic," RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol said. "It isn't old versus new. Here's what it is: legitimate versus illegitimate. It's iTunes and the new Napster and Wal-Mart, Amazon, Dell, Real, Microsoft and others versus Kazaa, Imesh and Grokster. It's whether or not digital music will be enjoyed in a fashion that supports the creative process or one that robs it of its future."
With the previous batch of suits, the RIAA was able to contact the accused and offer the possibility of a settlement. Last September, dozens of users paid fines to the tune of thousands of dollars, were forced to delete the offending songs from their computers and refrain from distributing them illegally again. The RIAA also offered an amnesty option for those who willingly admitted guilt prior to being accused.
The RIAA hit a snag last month when a U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that the organization couldn't use subpoenas to prod Internet service providers to identify file sharers without filing a lawsuit first. The decision forced the RIAA to file the new suits against "John Doe" defendants, which is the process used to sue a defendant whose identity is not known. The 532 users are only known through their Internet Protocol address, but now that the suits have been filed, the RIAA can subpoena the ISPs to find the defendants' names.
"The 'John Doe' legal process is a well-established mechanism for aggrieved parties to enforce their rights," RIAA president Cary Sherman said. "The process by which we obtain the identity of defendants has changed, but the enforcement program has not."
Because of the nature of the "John Doe" process, the RIAA won't be able to pre-notify the accused and give them the opportunity to settle in advance. The organization still plans to offer a variation upon their settlement plan, offering defendants an opportunity to settle just before any given suit is amended to reflect the identity of the accused. "Our enforcement program has been ongoing for many months and awareness that this activity is illegal has skyrocketed," Sherman said. "Illegal file sharers cannot so easily claim ignorance now."
Last year the RIAA said it was targeting "major offenders" who had traded "substantial amounts" of songs, pegged at 1,000. The latest group of suits reportedly focuses on those who have distributed in excess of 800 songs.