Music industry takes on file sharers outside U.S.

Stepping up its campaign against online music sharing, the recording industry on Tuesday said 247 individuals in Denmark, Germany, Italy and Canada face legal action for allegedly making copyright-protected music available on file-swapping services.

The announcement marks an expansion of the industry's tactic of pursuing individuals who offer music online to countries outside the U.S. Last week the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) launched a new round of lawsuits against file swappers in the U.S.

The action in Europe and Canada is aimed at individuals who offered hundreds of files for download, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said in a statement. Further action against "major uploaders" will be launched in different countries in the coming months, said the IFPI, representing the global recording industry.

In Sweden, for example, copyright holders are launching an instant messaging campaign to put users of file-sharing services on notice that they face legal retaliation if they continue offering copyright-protected music online, according to the IFPI statement.

Sharing music online is stealing and hurts music sales as well as the livelihoods of people involved in creating music, the IFPI said. Educational campaigns have proven not to be a sufficient deterrent; legal action is the only way to get people to rethink their actions, IFPI Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jay Berman said in the statement.

The IFPI sees RIAA's action in the U.S. as a success. And indeed, studies show that usage of file-swapping services dropped in the wake of RIAA's pursuit of individual file sharers. However, according to one study, usage is increasing again.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project in January said the number of U.S. Internet users who download songs on peer-to-peer networks fell from 29 percent, or about 35 million people, early last year to 14 percent, or 18 million people, at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, The NPD Group also in January said that use of file-sharing services was up 14 percent in November 2003 compared with September, an up-turn after six straight months of declines.

Global sales of recorded music fell 7 percent in 2002, according to the IFPI. Numbers for 2003 have not yet been released, but the IFPI estimates another 7 percent decline. File sharing directly depresses sales, the IFPI states.

But not everyone subscribes to the theory that file-swapping hurts music sales. Researchers at Harvard University in Massachusetts, and the University of North Carolina tracked downloads of songs from 680 albums during a 17-week period in 2002 and compared that data to the commercial success of the same albums. They found downloads to have an effect on sales that is "statistically indistinguishable from zero."

"The Internet is actually more like the radio than people assume. Users almost always download one or two songs and if they like the album they buy it," said Felix Oberholzer, an associate professor at Harvard Business School who worked on the study.

"The Internet seems to be a great promotional tool. If I can get people to download several songs from an album, maybe the person will actually buy the album," he said.

Action by the recording industry is different in each country. In Denmark over 120 people will get letters demanding they stop sharing copyright-protected files and compensate the rights holder, or face legal action. In Germany 68 people have been reported to law enforcement and in Italy 30 people have been charged with copyright infringement, the IFPI said.

In Canada, 29 individuals will face copyright infringement claims following court proceedings for disclosure of their names by their Internet service providers, the IFPI said.

The targeted file sharers used a range of applications, including Kazaa, DirectConnect, WinMX, eMule and iMesh, the IFPI said. It is unlikely anyone will be imprisoned as a result of the action, but large fines are possible, the IFPI said.

In the U.S., the RIAA's aggressive legal campaign has drawn some criticism, especially when the organization sued a 12-year-old New York girl. The case was settled for US$2,000.

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