The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), a group that represents the global music industry, hopes to use the software in its fight against copyright violation on the Internet. It already conducts manual searches of the Web to find people offering digital music illegally and says the new tools, which are still in development, will handle the task much more quickly.
"We have a very aggressive commitment to the fight against piracy, especially against those who upload large amounts of digital music onto the Net. We're not so bothered about the onetime downloader," said Adrian Strain, IFPI's communications director.
The group's efforts to protect copyrighted material comes a week after a federal appeals court dealt Napster a potentially lethal blow. The court determined that Napster is likely to be held liable for copyright infringement and ordered a lower court to slightly modify an earlier ruling that would require copyrighted materials to be pulled from Napster's service.
In response, Napster on Tuesday offered to pay the industry $1 billion over the next five years for the rights to distribute copyrighted music. To raise the funds, Napster executives said they would launch a subscription-based service with monthly fees ranging from $2.95 to $9.95.
Until the two sides settle, or the courts issue a final ruling, users are able to download freely. But the IFPI warned Wednesday that it is already taking action against people who make large amounts of digital music files available online.
"We conduct manual searches to find people offering links to pirate songs," explained Strain, adding that those who uploaded a lot of digital music, or who ran illegal commercial operations, would be targeted.
He added that such people could end up in court. "We normally send a letter asking them to stop, then a second letter if they ignore the first. The last resort is legal action."
Strain explained that although civil cases could be handled by the IFPI, the organization was also working closely with the police.
He wouldn't give details about the automatic tools--and refused to indicate when they might enter use--but insisted that there were no privacy implications. Privacy experts, however, have slammed the use of such software.
The actions of the Belgian arm of the IFPI in passing the details of Napster members to the police have also been heavily criticized, amid claims that the methods used to gather IP addresses are invasions of privacy.
It emerged last week that the IFPI was taking an aggressive approach to those people who were sharing music files online in Belgium, with reports suggesting that the details of hundreds of Napster members had been passed to the Belgian police.
The head of IFPI in Belgium, Marcel Heymans, has said that Belgian police are poised to raid the homes of hundreds of Napster users.
"The time for warnings is over; now we're going into action," Heymans told Belgian newspaper Financieel Economische Tijd.
Strain explained that although he couldn't confirm reports of raids, he was aware that the details of some Napster members had been passed to the police.
"Several thousand Belgian Napster users were identified. Letters were sent requesting that they cease swapping copyright-protected songs, and the vast majority stopped. The names of a hard core of around 100 users who ignored repeated warnings have been passed to the police," he said.
Strain insisted that, at least in the United Kingdom, the IFPI's priority was to catch those who were making large amounts of music available illegally on the Net, rather than the "casual downloader."
ZDNet U.K.'s Graeme Wearden reported from London.