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RIAA files new round of file-swapping suits

The record industry focuses on students at 14 universities in lawsuits targeting 477 individuals.

The Recording Industry Association of America filed a new round of copyright lawsuits against 477 anonymous music file swappers Wednesday, bringing the total number of people sued to nearly 2,500 in eight months.

As with March's wave of suits, the organization highlighted its litigation against university students, this time at 14 separate schools. Record labels have been particularly concerned about high levels of music trading on campuses, where students often have access to fast Internet connections and little money for music purchases.

"Along with offering students legitimate music services, campuswide educational and technological initiatives are playing a critical role" in diminishing file trading, RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement. "But there is also a complementary need for enforcement by copyright owners against the serious offenders--to remind people that this activity is illegal."

The new wave of lawsuits, coming on the anniversary of the release of Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store, serves as a stark reminder of how much the digital music landscape has changed in the past year.

Apple announced Wednesday that it has sold more than 70 million songs over the course of its year of digital download sales, providing clear evidence that a genuine market for online music sales is beginning to develop. Meanwhile, iTunes rivals Napster and MusicNet have reached out to college campuses, offering students cut-rate digital plans bundled with their ordinary student fees in hopes of weaning them away from unauthorized file-trading services like Kazaa.

At the same time, the near-monthly announcement of lawsuits against individual computer users has had an undeniably chilling effect on the file-trading networks, even if the size of the impact has been open to debate.

A study released Monday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that 14 percent of Americans who use the Internet no longer download music online from unauthorized services. A third of those--or about 6 million people--attributed their decision in part to the RIAA's actions.

However, the study also said that the number of people who actively download music from peer-to-peer networks has increased to 23 million from 18 million in November and December of last year.

As with the previous few waves of lawsuits, the RIAA actions Wednesday were filed against anonymous individuals, whose identities will come out as part of the court proceedings.