Record labels' decision to go after individual file swappers in their battle against online piracy could backfire, according to a report in the LA Times.

"The real people sued this [autumn] by the Recording Industry Association of America [Riaa] may have sympathetic stories to tell," warns the paper. It argues this could divert US legislators' attention away from the plight of the big business record companies.

"I would guess that you would see stories about the family faced with economic ruin because of the cost of having to hire defence counsel? and the money they were saving for Tommy's college education now has to go to Kid Rock," opines Philip Corwin, a lobbyist for Kazaa distributor Sharman Networks.

The LA Times reports that even those who are supportive of the record labels feel they must tread carefully when it comes to pursuing claims against individual file swappers, saying that the companies would suffer if they failed to settle issues reasonably.

Another danger inherent in this type of litigation is that the labels could end up suing the wrong people. The Riaa can identify which computers are sharing songs but not who is using them, so they can only go after the people who pay to connect them to the internet — often innocent parents and employers.

But the Riaa is standing firm, saying that this is the only way to stem the flow of illegal file sharing. "Everybody is aware there could be poster children. But the alternative, which is to do nothing about a problem that is increasing, is much worse," Riaa president Cary Sherman told the LA Times.

The Riaa plans to kick off with legal action against the worst offenders, hoping this will scare others from sharing copyrighted content. If this tactic doesn't work it will work its way down the file sharing food chain.