December 3, 2003 1:10 PM PST
RIAA launches new file-swapping suits
This is the RIAA's third batch of suits against computer users since early September, bringing the total number of people sued to 382. The group also said it had sent out an additional 90 new letters to alleged file traders, notifying them that they would be next to be sued if they didn't reach a settlement agreement first.
"This is an ongoing strategy, and the way to let people know that there is a risk of consequences is to continue the program," RIAA President Cary Sherman said. "You don't set up a speed trap for one day and stop enforcement thereafter. It has to be consistent."
The RIAA's legal campaign against individual file swappers has proved controversial, heightening criticism of the record industry even as it has underscored the idea that trading copyrighted music online is illegal.
The group said the educational component of its strategy is working well, however. It cited a privately commissioned study by Peter D. Hart Research Associates that said 64 percent of consumers now believe it is illegal to ?make music from the computer available for others to download for free over the Internet," up from 37 percent in November 2002.
That finding may point to some overreaction by consumers. Some artists do in fact authorize consumers to trade their music for free online, and many file-trading software companies have sought the support of independent musicians and record labels.
The RIAA said in a statement Wednesday that it had now reached settlements with 220 accused file traders. That figure was drawn from people who have already been sued, people who received notification letters that their names were on the list to be sued, and people who received word from their Internet service provider that the RIAA was interested in their accounts, but who had not yet been made targets.
Sources have said that settlement agreements have typically included payments averaging nearly $3,000 to the RIAA.
The group also said that 1,054 people have submitted applications for amnesty under the group's "Clean Slate" program. Under that offer, the RIAA has said that people who promise to delete any copyrighted files downloaded from file-swapping programs, and who promise not to continue using file-swapping programs to find music, will not be sued for past actions.
The lawsuits have not yet come to court. However, legal battles over the subpoenas used to extract file swappers' identities from their Internet service providers continue.
Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union said it would represent a University of North Carolina student whose identity is the target of one of those subpoenas. The civil liberties group said it was seeking to defend the student's constitutional privacy rights.
Last week, a San Francisco federal judge moved SBC Communication's similar fight against RIAA subpoenas to a Washington, D.C., court. Legal experts have said that could be bad for SBC's case, since the RIAA has won a similar battle against Verizon Communications in that venue.