After suffering a legal defeat in December, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is modifying its approach to pursuing online file swappers, but pushing on with its program to stop illegal file trading with lawsuits, RIAA President Cary Sherman said Wednesday.
The RIAA, an industry trade group representing copyright owners, filed a new round of copyright infringement lawsuits Wednesday against 532 computer users who are allegedly illegally sharing copyrighted material using peer to peer (P-to-P) networks, Sherman said in a telephone press conference to discuss the move.
In contrast to previous rounds of lawsuits, the RIAA filed "John Doe" lawsuits that identify alleged file swappers only by the IP (Internet Protocol) address of the computer sharing the file. The RIAA will file a motion to require ISPs (Internet service providers) that own the addresses to provide the identity of the customers behind the addresses, Sherman said.
Previously, the RIAA used a provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to subpoena ISPs directly, without court oversight, for the names and addresses associated with IP addresses before filing lawsuits. However, in December the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on behalf of Verizon Internet Services, overturning a lower court ruling that allowed the practice.
Verizon argued that the subpoenas threatened customer privacy because they could be issued by a court clerk without oversight by a judge and did not require subsequent legal action by the copyright holder after receiving the subpoenaed information.
The RIAA bundled its case against the 532 swappers into four lawsuits filed in New York and the District of Columbia. Each suit names customers of a different ISP, but defendants could live anywhere in the U.S., Sherman said.
He declined to name the ISPs involved in the suits and took pains to say that illegal file swappers, not ISPs, are the target of the suits.
Only "egregious" file uploaders are named in the suits, which describes individuals whose computers host more than 800 files for download by other P-to-P users, he said. No particular P-to-P network are targets in the lawsuits, he said.
"Lawsuits involve activity on a range of platforms, and we'll proceed against all of them," Sherman said.
The RIAA has not decided whether to continue pursuing its case against Verizon. However, the organization will not abandon similar cases pending in other circuits, Sherman said.
"We obviously disagree with Court's decision in the D.C. circuit. It will be interesting to see if other courts think (U.S. Court of Appeals) Judge Bates was correct," he said.
So far, the RIAA has filed 382 lawsuits. Settlements were reached in 233 of those suits, with agreements in principle reached in another 100, Sherman said.
The average settlement is $3,000. However, the RIAA may begin asking for larger settlements, as awareness of the legal issues surrounding file-swapping grows and if the RIAA's legal costs grow as a result of decisions like those from the D.C. circuit, Sherman said.