More Lawsuits vs. Music Fans

The music industry may be going the way of the dinosaur, but if so, it's going to go down with its army of lawyers fighting all the way to the bitter end.

On Wednesday, August 25, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) launched 744 new lawsuits against alleged but unidentified copyright violators in nine states, people that the industry believes used file-sharing services to supply or acquire music files, an average of 800 songs each. It was the largest number of lawsuits the trade group has filed in a single day, and brings the total number of lawsuits filed to 4680 since the litigation campaign began in April 2003.

To date, 836 defendants have settled for an average of $3000 each. One Southern California man owes the music industry $11,000 stemming from an RIAA suit, according to an August 21 report by the Associated Press. He and others convicted have had to take out second mortgages to pay their fines. "I've never had a situation like this before, where there are powerful plaintiffs and powerful lawyers on one side and then a whole slew of ordinary folks on the other side," said US District Judge Nancy Gertner at a hearing in her Boston courtroom. Most defendants settle rather than risk the huge cost of fighting the charges.

The increase in the number of lawsuits is part of a strategy to step up prosecution of file sharers in the belief that doing so will help contain an epidemic that the industry believes lies at the heart of a four-year decline in music sales, one that has sparked workforce cutbacks at all major labels. Only recently has the trend begun a turnaround, with a 7% increase in sales so far this year. Some industry executives believe that increase may be tied to the legal campaign against file sharing. "Without a strong measure of deterrence, piracy will overwhelm and choke the creation and distribution of music," RIAA president Cary Sherman told reporters, noting that the number of monthly filings was increasing from an average of 500 to 750.

The RIAA intends to escalate its war on file sharing despite a recent setback in which a US Appeals Court in San Francisco ruled that software made by Grokster and StreamCast doesn't violate copyright law. Convictions and/or rulings in US courts have no bearing on Internet users in other countries, and legal efforts here only increase traffic for offshore file-sharing services, observed Sam Yagan, president of eDonkey, whose site was targeted by the RIAA for the first time in the latest round of lawsuits. A survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates done in July found that 56% of Americans think that file sharing should not be illegal.