RIAA Targets College Students with 750 More P2P Suits

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has revived its long-running campaign to stem file-swapping through legal action, suing 750 alleged file sharers across the U.S. for copyright infringement.

The latest batch of suits included 25 users on 13 university campuses around the country and like past batches focuses on users of peer-to-peer services such as eDonkey, Kazaa, LimeWire and Grokster.

In addition, the RIAA said it filed another 213 suits against defendants whose names were discovered through earlier legal action but have not settled suits.

“Our legal efforts help build an essential foundation for the continued development of the legal online music marketplace,” RIAA President Cary Sherman said. “On that count, we continue to see promising developments.”

Going Legit

Sherman noted the rise of legitimate downloading services, with industry data showing 58 million tracks downloaded from licensed sites in the first six months of the year. To emphasize the rise of such services, the RIAA issued the first of what it said will be annual awards to various artists whose songs are among the popular downloads.

“In order for legitimate services to continue their growth, we cannot ignore those who take and distribute music illegally,” Sherman said. “There must be consequences to breaking the law or illegal downloading will cripple the music community’s ability to support itself now or invest in the future.”

The suits were filed in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Current estimates put the total number of legal actions filed at nearly 6,000 and the average cost of settling the claims at less than US$10,000, depending upon the extent of the swapping alleged.

Among the campuses where file-swappers allegedly used networks to share music are Indiana State University, Iowa State University, Ohio State University, the State University of New York and the University of Southern Mississippi.

More P2P, or Less?

The latest suits come on the heels a report that seeks to debunk the notion that P2P file-sharing traffic has declined as a result of the RIAA’s barrage of legal action.

The report argues that “the P2P battle seems to be entering a new phase with the P2P community making its second comeback.”

Thomas Karagiannis, a professor at the University of California at Riverside who co-authored the report, said efforts to disguise and hide P2P traffic are leading to undercounting of its use and will make it harder to identify file-sharers.

“Accurate measurements suggest P2P traffic has never declined,” he said. “If anything, there has been an increase in the past year. The traffic is becoming harder to detect and measure.”

Pressing Forward

The RIAA questioned the data used in the report and argued that its actions have helped revive music sales and curb illegal sharing.

The RIAA certainly appears undeterred and has made it clear it will continue to pursue file-swappers aggressively. In fact, it recently has seen its tactics adopted by music industry groups in the UK and Europe, despite the occasional black eye from bad publicity, such as when a 12-year-old was among those caught in the legal web.

But Forrester Research analyst Paul Jackson said the industry knows it has to do what it can to prevent swapping of copyrighted material from becoming an accepted, mainstream practice in the U.S., especially among young people.

That has already occurred in some parts of Europe, where legitimate download sites have been slower to take off amid customer reluctance to pay for what’s widely available for free.

“Download sites can be a double-edged sword,” he said. “They sell music but they also make people comfortable with using the Web to obtain music. The industry wants to ensure that people don’t get so comfortable they start swapping instead of buying.”

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