The Riaa (Recording Industry Association of America) will soon begin gathering evidence for use in what could amount to "thousands of lawsuits" against individual music file swappers.

In a statement, the Riaa cited its efforts to educate the public about the illegality of file swapping and the easy availability of extensive legal downloading services as precursors to its new effort to target individual file swappers who, it contends, are engaged in piracy.

"We cannot stand by while piracy takes a devastating toll on artists, musicians, songwriters, retailers and everyone in the music industry," the Riaa said in its statement.

The industry association will use software that can scan P2P (peer-to-peer) networks for copyrighted material and download the suspect files while also capturing the date and time of the download as evidence. Additional information obtained from the systems hosting the files will lead the Riaa to the internet service provider of the file swapper.

Those ISPs will then be served with subpoenas under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, requiring them to divulge the name and address of the individual hosting the files.

Individuals who are found swapping copyrighted material could face legal action from the Riaa in the form of civil lawsuits and even criminal prosecution, according to a statement attributed to Riaa President Cary Sherman.

The decision to pursue legal action against individuals is just the latest move by the Riaa to turn up the heat on file swappers using P2P networks such as Kazaa and Grokster.

In April, the group won a court case forcing ISP Verizon to turn over the names of customers who downloaded hundreds of songs over a P2P network.

The recording industry sees the current fight, coupled with its tentative efforts at online distribution such as Apple's iTunes Music Store, as the keys to its survival.