By David McGuire
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 25, 2003; 4:19 PM
The chief lobby group of the nation's major recording labels today said it would file hundreds of lawsuits against Internet users who illegally trade copyrighted music files.
The lawsuits will target people who share "substantial" amounts of copyrighted music, but anyone who shares illegal files is at risk, RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a conference call today. The first round of lawsuits will be prepared during the next eight to 10 weeks. They will ask for injunctions and monetary damages against file swappers, Sherman said.
"We have no hard and fast rules about how many files you have to be distributing" to be targeted in the RIAA sweep, he said. "Any individual computer user who continues to steal music will face the very real risk of having to face the music."
The announcement came around the same time that a New Jersey man pleaded guilty to distributing a copy of summer blockbuster "The Hulk" on the Internet before it was released in theaters. Kerry Gonzalez faces penalties of up to three years in jail and up to $250,000 in fines, the Justice Department said.
There are 57 million Americans who use file-sharing services today, according to Boston-based research firm the Yankee Group. Among the most popular are Kazaa, Morpheus and Grokster, which became prominent after the pioneering Napster service was shut down under a judicial order in 2001. Kazaa says that its file sharing software has been downloaded more than 200 million times.
The announcement is part of an attempt to rid the Internet of illegitimate versions of copyrighted works as it tries to find a way to encourage legitimate music download services. The RIAA has said that file-sharing services exist for few other reasons.
Record companies say file sharing is to blame for more than a billion dollars in lost CD sales, as well as millions in shrinking profits. The RIAA has focused most of its efforts on shutting down peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, but a federal judge in Los Angeles in April ruled that the sites have legal uses and should not be shut down. The recording industry instead is pursuing individual file traders.
The ruling came a day after another federal judge ruled that the RIAA could force Verizon Communications Inc., to hand over the names of two of its high-speed Internet service customers who were illegally trading large amounts of copyrighted music on the Kazaa network. Verizon handed over four names, but is appealing the decision.
Sarah Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel at Verizon, said the RIAA's hunt for file sharers could deluge Internet service providers with requests for customers' personal data.
Sherman, who confirmed that the RIAA would use its subpoena power to obtain the names of file sharers from ISPs, said that the practice "is not anonymous. You are engaging in an activity that's every bit as public as setting up a stall at a local flea market."
Sherman said the RIAA is not targeting people who use P2P networks only for downloading, but he warned that the networks often contain technology that allows members to tap other users' hard drives to make copies of music files. That process can make a digital fence out of an unwitting network user, he said.
He pointed people to the Musicunited.org Web site, which contains instructions for uninstalling file-sharing programs and for disabling the functions that open users' music libraries to pirates.
Wayne Rosso, president of the West Indies-based Grokster file-trading service, said the RIAA's tactics are "nothing short of lunacy."
"I can't wait to see what happens when a congressman or senator's child is sued," he said. "They've taken leave of their senses. They lost their [Los Angeles] lawsuit against us and they're pissed about it, so their answer is to sue their customers.
"We know this piracy is wrong and can't go on, but for God's sake, they won't work with us under any circumstances," he added.
The RIAA today also released documents showing that its critics have expressed support for tracking down individual pirates.
One document quoted Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorney Fred von Lohmann as saying: "the Copyright Act, like most of our laws, has been built on the premise that you go after the guy who actually breaks the law."
Von Lohmann said he stands by the quote, which came from an interview earlier this year with Techfocus.org, though he added that the RIAA's decision is misguided.
"If they think they can sue 57 million Americans into submission, I think they're going to find it much harder than they think," von Lohmann said.
Von Lohmann and other advocates of legitimizing file sharing have suggested that Congress consider legislation to establish an intellectual property fund that would pay artists and record labels when their materials are downloaded over peer-to-peer networks.