After suffering a legal defeat in December, the Riaa (Recording Industry Association of America) is modifying its approach to pursuing online file swappers, according to Riaa President Cary Sherman. But the group is pushing on with its program to stop illegal file trading with lawsuits.

The Riaa, an industry trade group representing copyright owners, filed a new round of copyright infringement lawsuits yesterday against 532 computer users who are allegedly illegally sharing copyright material using peer-to-peer 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 address of the computer sharing the file. The Riaa will file a motion to require ISPs that own the addresses to provide the identity of the customers behind the addresses.

Naming names

Previously, the Riaa used a provision of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) to subpoena ISPs directly, without court oversight, for the names and addresses associated with IP addresses before filing lawsuits. However, in December the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in favour of ISP Verizon, 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 United States.

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.

Egregious offenders

The suits name only "egregious" file uploaders, which describes individuals whose computers host more than 800 files for download by other P2P users, he says. No particular P2P networks are targets in the lawsuits, he says.

So far, the Riaa has filed 382 lawsuits. Settlements were reached in 233 of those suits, with agreements in principle reached in another 100, with the remainder still outstanding.

The average settlement is $3,000 (about £1,500). 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.