File Sharers Targeted With Wave of Lawsuits in Europe

The European recording industry announced a wave of new lawsuits against alleged illegal music file traders this week, but the move was seen as more of a ripple in the vast ocean of peer to peer (P2P) activity.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the European equivalent of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), announced almost 2,000 new lawsuits against alleged copyright infringers who did so online. There are currently millions of file sharers on the Internet, many of whom are not breaking the law with their downloads of software, music, video clips and other files.

The IFPI, boasting that hundreds have already settled for an average of Euros 2,633 (US$3,228) to avoid prosecution, said its campaign had been effective in cutting off connections for offending Europeans, and highlighting the issue of illegal filetrading online.

However, a similar strategy brought backlash against the RIAA in the U.S., and in Europe, the effort is running against different perceptions and recent French legislation that legalized all P2P use.

Threats Both Ways

The IFPI, nevertheless, pushed ahead with its legal threats against individual Internet users, warning parents that they are responsible for their childrens’ online activity, and detailing the cost of free file trading to the music industry.

The organization said new lawsuits represented a broadening of its targets, and complained that its industry was in jeopardy because of free filetrading.

“This is a significant escalation in our worldwide campaign against illegal file-sharing,” said John Kennedy, chairman and chief executive of IFPI.

“This campaign started in major music markets where sales were falling sharply,” the group said. “Now these legal actions have spread to smaller markets in countries like Portugal, where it is not an exaggeration to say the future of the whole national market, and local artists, is at stake.”

Pushing Off P2P

Given the number of worldwide P2P downloaders, the 2,000 lawsuits do not amount to much, Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Goodman told TechNewsWorld.

He added that the recording industry’s lawsuit strategy is actually pushing illegal filetraders away from P2P networks to Usernet and underground, private networks, which are much more difficult to track.

Goodman said on any given day, approximately seven million Internet users download something — both files and software that are legal, and other downloads that are illegal.

Little Sympathy

Although Europe is similar to the U.S. market in the availability and development of legitimate music download sites and services, Europe can be very different in its attitude toward the entertainment industry, which is dominated by the U.S., Goodman said.

“Europe has somewhat of a more pervasive attitude on allowing unlicensed downloads,” he said. “The entertainment industries to not carry the same weight as they do in the U.S.”

Referencing the case of “DVD Jon,” a Scandinavian hacker who cracked DVD encryption and was later acquitted in Europe, Goodman said there is not as much legal or judicial interest in protecting U.S.-based industries in Europe.

Ongoing Struggle

Regardless of its effectiveness, the recording industry lawsuit strategies are likely to continue, Gartner Research Director Mike McGuire told TechNewsWorld.

However, the content holders must also invest in and promote legitimate alternatives, and walk a fine line over public perception, McGuire added.

“How they continue to balance the message of a hammer in one hand and a finger pointing the direction in the other is very, very delicate,” he said. “It’s important you don’t turn off the buying audience.”

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