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Record industry warns of new lawsuits

The Recording Industry Association of America has begun preparing a second round of file-swapping lawsuits, notifying 204 individuals that they are in line to be sued for copyright infringement.

The Recording Industry Association of America has begun preparing a second round of file-swapping lawsuits, notifying 204 individuals that they are in line to be sued for copyright infringement.

Unlike with the previous wave of suits, the record labels' trade association is giving the lawsuit targets warning this time around, offering them a chance to settle before the suits are filed. The change in tactics comes after considerable criticism from federal lawmakers and others concerning the group's first batch of court actions against 261 individuals last month.

"We take the concerns expressed by policy makers and others very seriously," RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement. "In light of the comments we have heard, we want to go the extra mile and offer illegal file sharers an additional chance to work this out short of legal action."

The advance notification preceding this second wave of suits marks only a small concession to critics of the RIAA actions, which have been the most controversial tactics taken by copyright holders in years of fighting piracy online.

The first round of suits, launched early in September, targeted 261 individuals whom the RIAA said had been identified as the most "egregious" file swappers, often offering more than 1,000 songs for download over peer-to-peer services such as Kazaa and Morpheus.

But as the identities of those individuals hit the press, criticism arose. The case of a 12-year-old girl living in New York public housing quickly became emblematic of what critics called the RIAA's excessive enforcement action. A 60-something Boston woman, accused of offering hardcore rap songs for download through the Kazaa service, was dropped from the lawsuit lists after it emerged she actually used a Macintosh computer, which did not support Kazaa.

A Los Angeles area man is also , saying that the RIAA's suit identifies him as using an Internet address that was not his, and that he can prove it.

In congressional hearings last week, RIAA executives promised they would begin sending letters to potential targets of lawsuits in advance of the actual filings, allowing those who wish to settle early to do so, and giving people who believe they were misidentified a chance to make their concerns known.

The letters, sent out in two batches Monday and Friday, are primarily focused on settlement.

"We have gathered substantial evidence that you have been using a peer-to-peer network such as Kazaa or Gnutella to download and upload music owned by our clients," reads a sample letter provided by the RIAA. "We are writing in advance of filing suit against you in the event that you have an interest in resolving these claims through settlement."

The letter reminds potential defendants that "ignorance of the law is not a defense," and that the law provides for minimum damages of $750 for each copyrighted recording that has been "shared." It also warns potential defendants not to destroy any evidence, such as MP3 files stored on computers, that may relate to the lawsuits.

It says that the RIAA will "proceed to litigation" if it does not hear from the recipient of the letter within 10 days after the date of the letter.

From this point on, the lawsuits against accused file-swappers will proceed on a rolling, weekly basis, rather than in waves of hundreds, an RIAA spokeswoman said. To date, the organization has reached settlement agreements with more than 50 of the people sued in the first round.