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RIAA Turns to IM in Anti-Piracy Fight

Still bristling over a surprise court ruling that the Grokster and Morpheus P2P networks could not be held liable for copyright infringement, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has taken up instant messaging as an anti-piracy tool.

Starting Tuesday, millions of file-swappers on the popular peer-to-peer networks are getting IM warnings that there are "real consequences" to the illegal sharing of copyrighted files. Both networks use a publicly-accessible IM function.

"When you break the law, you risk legal penalties. There is a simple way to avoid that risk: DON'T STEAL MUSIC, either by offering it to others to copy or downloading it on a "file-sharing" system like this," the IM messages will say, according to the trade association.

And if that's not a strong enough warning, the RIAA is tossing in the message that file swappers "are not anonymous and you can easily be identified."

The warnings continue: "You also may have unlocked and exposed your computer and your private files to anyone on the Internet. Don't take these chances. Disable the share feature or uninstall your "file-sharing" software," according to the IM.

Although the RIAA said the IM warfare will target certain unidentified peer-to-peer networks, the effort is especially keen on users of the Kazaa and Grokster systems.

"Many users of systems like Kazaa and Grokster may be under the mistaken impression that anything they do on these systems is now legal. In fact, every court decision regarding peer-to-peer networks has confirmed that distributing or downloading copyrighted music without permission of the copyright owner is illegal. And that's the message we want to get across to users of these systems," said RIAA President Cary Sherman.

He said the decision to go to the source of the problem was part of an education campaign to "enlighten consumers as to other risks and consequences" of file-sharing, including the security issues involved with exposing PCs and private files to everyone on the Internet. "By reaching out to individuals directly through these educational instant messages, we hope to encourage individuals to take the necessary steps to stop stealing music," Sherman added.

The new scare campaign comes less than a week after a Los Angeles judge freed the Grokster and Morpheus networks from being sued by a slew of big-name entertainment firms, including AOL Time Warner, Vivendi Universal, Sony Corp., Viacom Inc., News Corp. and Walt Disney Co.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson argued Grokster and Morpheus can not control how people use their software, which could also have legitimate applications. The court cited the famous Sony Betamax case of 1984, where the Hollywood studies tried to outlaw VCRs but ran into a Supreme Court ruling that use of new technology to infringe copyrights did not justify an outright ban on that technology.