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Superstars blast file swapping

A coalition of artists and labels will start running print, radio and TV ads featuring dozens of major recording stars who compare file swapping with stealing.

Got unauthorized MP3s?

Record labels are launching a multimillion-dollar public interest-style ad campaign to make sure you don't.

On Thursday, a coalition of artists and labels will start running print, radio and TV ads featuring dozens of major recording stars who compare file swapping with stealing.

The ads, reminiscent of the American Dairy Association's Got Milk or MTV's Rock the Vote campaigns, are designed to shame people out of illegally swapping music. They feature big-name artists such as Madonna, P. Diddy and Sting.

One of the ads contains quotes from a variety of singers, including Britney Spears.

"Would you go into a CD store and steal a CD?" Spears asks. "It's the same thing--people going into the computers and logging on and stealing our music."

Recording industry executives said they're trying to educate music fans and their parents that file swapping is illegal and is hurting artists and the business. CD sales have been declining in recent years, a trend that's coincided with both the rise of file swapping and a dismal economy.

"Illegally downloading is stealing, and it's against the law plain and simple," Hilary Rosen, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), said when announcing the campaign.

The record industry, reeling from the effects of Napster and other file-swapping sites--which allowed millions of people to trade music for free--has been fighting furiously to regain control of its songs.

The ad campaign is the latest in an aggressive, multipronged approach by the labels to quash file swapping that's not industry-sanctioned. In addition to launching the ads, the RIAA has sued file-swapping sites out of business, threatened to crack down on companies and individual file-swappers, and pushed legislation that would mandate anti-copying technology in new products.

On Thursday, industry executives will testify before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., that would allow intellectual-property owners to use technical measures to prevent copyright infringement.

But the new ad campaign, which coincides with the hearing and will appear in at least one Washington-based policy-focused newspaper, may send mixed messages to fans.

For example, when unveiling the plan Wednesday, Universal Music Group's anti-piracy czar, David Benjamin, said file swapping hurts singers and midlevel music industry employees, whom he described as working people who are just trying to "put a roof over our heads and feed the kids and try to do right."

However, it's unclear whether testimony from multimillionaire recording artists will garner much sympathy among fans, many of whom complain that CDs are overpriced or contain just one or two quality songs.

What's more, the new campaign comes after a study by consulting firm KPMG that criticizes the recording industry's anti-piracy efforts. The report said the labels need to devote more time to developing new Internet business models instead of trying to lock down their content.