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The international record industry escalated its fight against music piracy Thursday, announcing it will file hundreds of lawsuits across Europe against individuals and groups it accuses of illegally sharing music through the Internet. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, representing record companies tired of losing millions of euros (dollars) in revenue, said its affiliates are filing 459 lawsuits in Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, Italy and Austria. The lawsuits include both criminal and civil complaints against “uploaders” — people alleged to have put hundreds of copyrighted songs onto Internet file-sharing networks and offered them to millions of people worldwide without permission, the London-based group said. It is the first time such action has been taken in Britain, France and Austria, and follows a public campaign by industry groups — including instant pop-up screen messages — to warn Internet users they are doing something illegal. “We have spent more than a year discussing the damage illegal file-sharing is doing to the music industry, including countless warnings of the legal consequences,” said the group’s chairman and chief executive, Jay Berman. “Now, finally, we are at the point where the law has to be enforced.” The group claims piracy is behind a five-year global decline in music sales. It said worldwide sales of recorded music fell 7.6 percent in 2003, following a similar fall the previous year. The industry group launched a similar, but smaller, round of lawsuits against illegal file-sharing in Europe and Canada in March. More than 80 people in Germany and Denmark so far have agreed to compensation payments of up to euro13,000 (US$16,000) each. The Recording Industry Association of America began targeting individual file-sharers last year and has brought some 5,500 actions, 504 of which have been settled, usually for a few thousand dollar (euros) each. Of the new lawsuits announced Thursday, most are being brought by industry affiliates of the London-based group, except Italy where the state prosecutor is filing the legal action. The actions vary from country to country. In Britain, 28 individuals are being taken to court in a civil suit for allegedly copying and making available large numbers of music tracks on the Internet in breach of copyright. In Germany, criminal complaints are being filed against 100 people alleged to be engaged in illegal file-sharing of music. The uploaders subject to legal action include users of the Kazaa, Imesh, Grokster, Bearshare and WinMX networks. Andrew Burke, an associate professor at Britain’s Warwick Business School and the Max Blenkin Institute in Germany, said the industry itself could be partly to blame for the illegal activity. “In a sense, the technology has got ahead of the industry,” Burke said. “Because the music industry was quite slow in terms of getting music online, they’ve actually opened the door really to a lot of pirate sites.” After languishing months behind services available in the United States, online music sites are opening up in Europe — among several launches this year were Napster in Britain in May and iTunes in Britain, France and Germany in June. ITunes plans to roll out to other European markets, and Rhapsody, already a major player in the United States, said it plans to begin operating in Britain, where an official Download Top 40 Music Chart was launched last month. Mark Mulligan, an analyst with the Jupiter Research group, said neither those sites nor the lawsuits — which target providers instead of consumers — would stamp out illegal downloading completely. Mulligan said a recent survey of U.S. consumers showed only a third would reduce their use of illegal downloads following the lawsuits there. “The genie is firmly out of the bottle,” he said. “The lawsuits are all about the process of making file-sharing less appealing � What it does is try to push it back to the margins where it should have been all along.” The industry is also tied by the available legislation — it targets individuals for breach of copyright rather than Internet service providers, who can claim they have no knowledge of any piracy occurring on their networks. Burke said the debate came down to whether a consumer was interested in price or quality. “If they are interested in price, then potentially the market could shift over to nonofficial sites almost entirely.” However, he acknowledged the lawsuits would scare off some users. “It is an important jab in the fight,” he said. “It’s not going to solve the problem, but it is going to make people think twice about downloading.” Cases against individual song swappers have been contentious in the United States, where Verizon Communications Inc. successfully challenged the industry’s use of subpoenas to seek identifying information about Verizon’s Internet subscribers. A U.S. appeals court ruled in December that the recording industry can’t use the subpoenas to force Internet providers to identify file-swappers unless a lawsuit is first filed. In response, the music industry has sued “John Doe” defendants — identified only by their numeric Internet addresses — and expects to work through the courts to learn their identities. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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