The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has previously spent much of its enforcement efforts targeting large-scale CD counterfeiting operations, along with Internet file-swapping and other online copyright infringement.
However, CD-burning technology has become widespread and cheap enough that small retail outlets are now making their own copies to sell, threatening in aggregate to cut further into the record industry's anemic revenues, the group contended.
"This new initiative should serve as a clarion call for retail outlets of all shapes and sizes that we take music piracy seriously and they need to get their house in order," RIAA Chief Executive Hilary Rosen said in a prepared statement. "No one should think they operate below the radar anymore."
The RIAA's enforcement division has taken an increasingly prominent role during the past months, targeting more than one arena that had previously had little reason even to know of the trade group's existence. The expanding role is largely due to the growing reach of high-speed Internet and digital reproduction technologies, which allows CD and music files to be copied and distributed almost anywhere.
In recent months, the RIAA has sent letters to leading colleges and Fortune 500 companies, asking that the institutions begin doing a better job policing their own networks for copyright infringers.
Monday's announcement displayed the increasing concern that record labels have shown over CD burning and reproduction as opposed to Internet-based file swapping. The record companies now consistently blame declines in their sales in the past year in part on the wide availability of CD burners as well as Internet services such as Kazaa and Napster, although skeptics point to other factors such as the weak economy.
The RIAA said it had surveyed "hundreds of stores across the country," making undercover purchases of counterfeit CDs when investigators could find them. Last week, the group sent letters to 78 of the small retailers they found to be selling illegally copied CDs, offering them a choice between a cash settlement or a lawsuit.
The new enforcement program will initially target small retail outlets in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and parts of Texas and Florida, but will later expand to other parts of the country, the group said.