By Ted Bridis
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The recording industry Wednesday sued 532 computer users it said were illegally distributing songs over the Internet, the first lawsuits since a federal appeals court blocked the use of special copyright subpoenas to identify those being targeted.
The action represents the largest number of lawsuits filed at one time since the trade group for the largest music labels, the Recording Industry Association of America, launched its legal campaign last summer to cripple Internet music piracy.
Music lawyers filed the newest cases against "John Doe" defendants - identified only by their numeric Internet protocol addresses - and expected to work through the courts to learn their names and where they live. All of the defendants were customers of one of four Internet providers.
The 532 new defendants represent a tiny fraction of the estimated tens of millions of U.S. computer users who regularly download music illegally across the Internet, but the recording association described each one as a "major offender," distributing an average of more than 800 songs online. Each defendant faces potential civil penalties or settlements that could cost them thousands of dollars.
The resumed legal campaign was intended to discourage music fans emboldened by last month's federal appeals court decision, which dramatically increased the cost and effort to track computer users swapping songs online and sue them.
"Our campaign against illegal file sharers is not missing a beat," Cary Sherman, president of the recording association, said. "The message to illegal file sharers should be as clear as ever."
All 532 lawsuits were filed in Washington and New York - home to Verizon Internet Services Inc., Time Warner Inc. and a few other prominent Internet providers - although the recording association said it expects to discover through traditional subpoenas that these defendants live across the United States.
"These are soccer moms, immigrant families, just ordinary citizens trying to reap the benefits of what appears to them to be nifty technology," said Jay Flemma, a New York lawyer who represented eight people sued in previous rounds by the music industry. "They ... don't understand the nuances of copyright law."
The RIAA said that after its lawyers discover the identity of each defendant, they will contact each person to negotiate a financial settlement before amending the lawsuit to formally name the defendant and, if necessary, transfer the case to the proper courthouse.
Settlements in previous cases have averaged $3,000 each.
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Music industry resumes suits