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Canada ruling won't stop music lawsuits

Downloading music through peer-to-peer services now enjoys regulatory approval, but that may do little to prevent the music industry from taking its own action against file swappers.

A ruling in Canada declaring downloading music through peer-to-peer services legal, but uploading illegal, may do little to prevent the music industry from taking its own action against file swappers.

That's because the country's industry group, the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA), is in lockstep with its U.S. counterpart's plan to sue individual file swappers. And last week's ruling by Canadian regulators will not pose a formidable barrier for CRIA to begin its own round of litigation, according to a legal analyst.

"I don't know that last week's decision has a huge impact on (the music industry's) potential litigation strategy," said Michael Geist, technology counsel for the law firm of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt in Ottawa.

The CRIA, Geist said, can just as easily find music uploaders as downloaders. Peer-to-peer services such as Kazaa allow a user to download songs from other PCs while simultaneously uploading songs off the user's hard drive for public availability.

Speculation that the CRIA will follow the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in suing individual file sharers reached a boiling point on Tuesday. Canada's National Post, a nationally distributed newspaper, published a top story that said the CRIA was planning to take legal action against music uploaders.

The story, citing unidentified sources, added that the CRIA would begin serving lawsuits as early as January. In an interview with the paper, the association's head, Brian Robertson, said the decision to begin suing individuals came after attempts to educate consumers about why file sharing was wrong.

A CRIA spokeswoman declined to comment on the piece. Instead, she pointed to a press release issued on Dec. 4, a day after the RIAA issued 41 lawsuits against individuals in the United States, that offered bold comments about the CRIA's stance on file sharing.

"CRIA has invested in excess of one million dollars to date in an effort to educate young people on the issues of Internet piracy and we will continue to do so," Roberts said in the release. "For the hardcore group, however, it appears that education has and will not make any impression. They are killing the music they profess to love. They should be aware that they may face legal consequences for their actions."

The U.S. lawsuits have so far attracted considerable negative publicity. Targets of the suits have included preteens and the elderly, as well as some users who claim they were wrongfully accused. The threats may have discouraged file swapping, according to some studies showing a dramatic decline in Kazaa usage. But there are other data that show Kazaa usage reaching all-time highs.

And what may have worked in the United States may not be easy to replicate in Canada, given differing subpoena procedures and different hurdles for litigation.

"It's a more difficult, expensive and cumbersome process than in the U.S.," said Geist.