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New RIAA file-swapping suits filed

The record industry group steps up the pace of its legal action--with a new focus on students.

The Recording Industry Association of America stepped up the pace of its lawsuits against music swappers again, with a renewed focus on university students.

The trade association said Tuesday that it sued an additional 532 anonymous individuals, including 89 people at 21 separate universities. This is the third round of suits since the RIAA was forced by the courts to file suits without first using subpoenas to learn the alleged file swappers' true identities.

"It's important for everyone to understand that no one is immune from the consequences of illegally 'sharing' music files on (peer to peer) networks," RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement. "Lawsuits are an important part of the larger strategy to educate file sharers about the law, protect the rights of copyright owners, and encourage music fans to turn to these legitimate services."

Nearly seven months into the RIAA's legal drive against individual file swappers, the overall effect remains mixed. Research and monitoring companies reported a steep initial drop in the number of people using file-sharing tools in the United States. But those figures leveled out by the end of last year.

Popularity of the tools, meanwhile, remains strong. Kazaa, the most widely used file-sharing program, was downloaded more than 1.9 million times last week alone, according to, a software aggregation site owned by publisher CNET Networks.

However, awareness of the legal dangers of trading copyright files has risen substantially since the beginning of the RIAA's lawsuit strategy. The group cited a March survey it commissioned from Peter Hart research, in which 63 percent of people believed that it was illegal to "make music from the computer available for others to download for free over the Internet."

The group also noted that a full 28 percent of students thought that allowing others to download copyrighted music over the Net was legal, however. That "suggested more education was required," the RIAA said.

To date, 1,977 individuals have been sued by the RIAA. More than three-quarters of those suits have come since January and have fallen under the "John Doe" mechanism now required by the courts, in which the RIAA first sues anonymous individuals and obtains the identities of the defendants through a subsequent court process.

Early this month, a Philadelphia court handed the group a minor procedural setback, but in most cities the suits are proceeding on schedule, the RIAA said.

More than 400 individuals have settled with the record industry group, paying fines averaging near $3,000. None of the suits has come to a full trial yet.