When last seen, the RIAA had been told by a federal court judge in Los Angeles that it could not shut down Grokster and Morpheus by suing the programs’ creators, since they weren’t responsible for alleged copyright infringement by users of the software. At the same time, however, another judge ruled that Verizon had to disclose the names of a few people alleged to be offering lots of music on the same software. There was widespread speculation that the recording industry might start terrorizing individuals with lawsuits. (See my item on January 26). Alas, the reality is likely to be worse than we guessed.

The RIAA announced today that it intends to file thousands of lawsuits against individuals offering or downloading music online. Here’s an article with the ugly details.

“’Once we begin our evidence-gathering process, any individual computer user who continues to offer music illegally to millions of others will run the very real risk of facing legal action in the form of civil lawsuits that will cost violators thousands of dollars and potentially subject them to criminal prosecution,’ RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement.

“The RIAA said it will scan the public directories of peer-to-peer networks to reveal files that people are sharing and detect their Internet service providers. The association will then serve subpoenas on the ISPs to identify the individuals. It expects the first round of suits to be filed as early as August. . . .

“This time around, the RIAA is . . . training its legal guns on those who actually trade the files. The RIAA said people who trade lots of files would potentially be the biggest targets, but that there is no cut-off: Anyone who swaps unauthorized copies of songs could get snagged. . . .

“ISPs are bracing for what Verizon Vice President Sarah Deutsch called ‘an avalanche of subpoenas,’ as the labels turn to service providers to help them identify file swappers. She said there’s no mechanism in place under the subpoena process to ensure that customers aren’t mistakenly targeted or that their personal information is only used for the purposes of the lawsuit.

“She also worries that other copyright holders might follow the RIAA’s lead, putting ISPs in the middle of the copyright debate and forcing them to spend time and money processing thousands of requests to identify subscribers who haven’t been proven guilty of anything.”

In 2003, with all that has happened over the last few years, the recording industry’s business plan is thousands of lawsuits against students and music lovers. Senator Hatch’s debilitating brain disease is apparently highly contagious.

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