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RIAA Sues Hundreds of Song- Swappers in Latest Crackdown

By Kirk Semple

The New York Times -- In the latest salvo in the recording industry’s battle against online piracy, a trade group on Monday sued 261 people in the United States it accuses of violating copyright laws by swapping online files.

The lawsuits were filed in federal courts throughout the country and could be followed by thousands more such complaints in the coming months, said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, which filed the lawsuits on behalf of its member recording companies.

The action is expected to help define the legal boundaries of a common practice for an estimated 60 million people in the United States who use file-sharing networks.

“Nobody likes playing the heavy and having to resort to litigation,” Sherman said. “But when your product is being regularly stolen, there comes a time when you have to take appropriate action. We simply cannot allow online piracy to continue destroying the livelihoods of artists, musicians, songwriters, retailers and everyone in the music industry.”

The recording industry blames the practice for a 25 percent drop in sales of CDs since 1999. Under copyright law, the group can be awarded damages of $750 to $150,000 for each copyrighted song that is distributed without authorization.

The recording association also announced on Monday that it was offering amnesty to copyright violators who had not yet been subpoenaed or sued. Under the terms of the program, music swappers can avoid prosecution if they sign a notarized affidavit promising to delete all songs they have acquired illegally and to respect recording copyrights, Sherman said.

During the summer, the Recording Industry Association of America put the file-sharing world on notice that it was planning the legal barrage. On June 25, the major music companies said they intended to sue hundreds of individuals as a form of deterrence. The association obtained more than 1,500 subpoenas demanding that more than a dozen Internet service providers and several universities disclose the names of subscribers who swap files using file-sharing software, which allows users to copy music, movies and other files from one another’s computers through the Internet.