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RIAA Files 532 New Lawsuits

In its largest legal action to date, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed another 532 lawsuits Wednesday against alleged music pirates operating through peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.

The lawsuits use the "John Doe" process, which is used to sue defendants whose names aren't known.

The lawsuits identify the defendants by their Internet protocol computer address. Once a John Doe suit has been filed and approved by a judge, the RIAA can subpoena the information needed to identify the defendant by name from an Internet service provider (ISP).

A decision by a Washington, D.C., federal appeals court on Dec. 19 that the information subpoena process allowed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) cannot be used in infringement cases involving P2P networks forced the RIAA to change its legal tactics.

From September to mid-December, the RIAA issued more than 3,000 DMCA subpoenas to obtain names for copyright infringement suits. The DMCA subpoenas were filed prior to any charges of infringement and were not subject to a review by a judge, and required no notice to, or opportunity to be heard by, the alleged infringer.

"The 'John Doe' legal process is a well-established mechanism for aggrieved parties to enforce their rights," RIAA President Cary Sherman said at a teleconference announcing the lawsuits. "The process by which we obtain the identity of defendants has changed, but the enforcement program has not."

The lawsuits filed Wednesday bring the total number of legal actions to 914 since the RIAA launched its legal campaign against individual file-swappers in September. Sherman said 233 of the lawsuits have been resolved with an average settlement of approximately $3,000.

"Our campaign against illegal file sharers is not missing a beat," said Sherman. "The message to illegal file sharers should be as clear as ever -- we can and will continue to bring lawsuits on a regular basis against those who illegally distribute copyrighted music."

Due to the anonymous nature of the John Doe litigation process, the RIAA will no longer be able to pre-notify illegal file sharers and give them an opportunity to settle in advance of the formal filing of the lawsuit as it was able to do using the DMCA subpoena process.

Sherman said the RIAA will, after learning the identity of an accused file sharer through a John Doe lawsuit, but prior to amending the complaint to reflect the alleged infringer's name and address, offer the opportunity to settle the case.

"The context as we move forward has improved dramatically," said Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the RIAA, said. "The debate isn't digital versus plastic. 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."