This week's filings are a continuation of a legal campaign that started in April 2003 and has maintained a steady course until a federal appeals court ruled last month in a lawsuit filed by Verizon Internet Services that the RIAA could no longer subpoena Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for individual user information.
The 532 lawsuits, a record number filed against file-sharers, adds to the 382 lawsuits already pending and specifically targets computer users believed to be downloading copyrighted music files from the Internet.
By definition, each of the defendants in the case has allegedly downloaded a minimum of 800 songs from the Internet, the RIAA said.
"While it's an improvement that the record industry now has to play by the same rules as everyone else who goes into court, they are still heading in the wrong direction," said Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "The recording industry should be giving America's millions of file-sharers the same deal that radio stations have had for decades: pay a fair fee, play whatever you want on whatever software works best for you."
In accordance with the federal appeals court decision that confined the RIAA's search for user identification to their URLs, the flurry of lawsuits were filed against "John Doe" defendants, the Associated Press reported. From that point on, the RIAA will be able to discover the user's identity and contact information through the court system.
Once user identity has been established, the AP reports, the RIAA will then seek out each defendant and discuss a financial settlement before resorting to formally naming them in the lawsuit. Although the RIAA will first have to prove to the court that they did a "reasonable investigation" before naming the user as a formal defendant.
Typically the RIAA has been fining users for around $3,000. However, according to the RIAA, online infringement of copyrighted music can be punished by up to 3 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Repeat offenders can be imprisoned for up to 6 years.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the RIAA appears to be targeting users who allow their computers to be used as "Supernodes."
The EFF recommends that users make sure there are no "potentially" infringing files in shared folders and that all misleading file names that might trigger interest from the RIAA be eliminated from shared folders.
The EFF also recommends the disablement of the "sharing" or "uploading" features on P2P applications that allow other users on the network to get copies of files from a user's computer or scan their music directories.
"We hate this option," the EFF states. "But it does appear that it will reduce your chances of becoming an RIAA target right now."