(Wired) The Recording Industry Association of America is suing 532 more individuals it says are illegally sharing copyright music over peer-to-peer networks, the group announced Wednesday. It’s the largest group of copyright-infringement lawsuits that the music trade group has filed since it began its crackdown on file traders in September. The latest batch of traders targeted by the RIAA are accused of distributing, on average, 858 music files.
Currently the RIAA doesn’t know exactly who these people are, so it must use a “John Doe” process to obtain the names of those it says are illegally sharing music. Defendants are identified by their IP addresses. Once the suit is filed, the record companies must go before a judge to seek a subpoena ordering an Internet service provider to provide the name of each suspected infringer.
“Our campaign against illegal file sharers is not missing a beat,” said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA. “Illegal file sharers can’t claim ignorance any longer.”
The RIAA hopes to convert those who trade files illegally — using software like Kazaa, IMesh and Grokster — to legitimate services like iTunes, Napster and Wal-Mart, to name a few.
“The debate isn’t digital versus plastic. It isn’t old versus new. Here’s what it is: legitimate versus illegitimate,” said RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol.
He said that while the RIAA’s education-and-enforcement campaign is working, making the public more aware of the problem of illegal file trading and actually changing some users’ behaviors, the job isn’t done.
Enter the newest round of lawsuits.
The suits were “bundled” into four lawsuits to “maximize the efficiency of the process,” Sherman said. They were filed in New York and Washington, D.C., but individual defendants could be located anywhere in the United States.
Previously, the music trade group had used a quicker subpoena power granted in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to collect the names of suspected infringers. The process only required the signature of a district court clerk for ISPs to hand over the names of suspected infringers.
Verizon sued the RIAA for using the DMCA to obtain the personal information of its subscribers. In December, a federal court ruled that the DMCA does not authorize these types of subpoenas.
Sherman said the RIAA had not yet decided if it would appeal the decision.
Since the RIAA does not know the names of those it is suing, Sherman said, it no longer will be able to notify the alleged file sharers that they may be the target of a lawsuit. However, he said the music trade group would continue to offer the defendants an opportunity to settle before litigation begins.
Before Wednesday’s announcement, the group had filed 382 lawsuits. Settlements have been reached in 233 of the cases, and 100 more are in process. Defendants generally have paid about $3,000 to settle their cases, Sherman said.
Sherman said some cases are going through the litigation process, but no trial dates have been set.
One critic of the RIAA’s suing strategy said the John Doe suits were good news for due process, but they won’t solve the copyright-infringement problem.
“We’re glad that the recording industry has agreed to play by the same rules that everyone else has to play by when they go to court,” said Jason Schultz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It forces them to go before the judge to prove their case to some degree before they can even request people’s personal information.
“But it still doesn’t solve any of the problems that the recording industry is facing. It doesn’t put a single penny in the pockets of artists, and it says nothing about a business model that doesn’t involve lawsuits.”