Music industry takes illegal file sharers to court

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The recorded music industry will on Tuesday take legal action against 1,800 people who illegally shared music files on the internet in nine European countries.

The action against heavy “uploaders”, or individuals who swap copyrighted music, is the latest move in the record companies’ campaign against piracy.

The IFPI, which represents record companies worldwide, has already reached settlements with a wide range of heavy uploaders, including a German judge, a British local councillor and a Finnish carpenter.

The latest wave of cases brings the total number of legal actions against illegal file sharers to more than 5,500 in 18 countries outside the US. The fear of legal action has helped curtail music piracy, the IFPI says.

It says that more than a third of illegal file sharers in France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the UK have stopped or cut back on such activity, with 11 per cent of British downloaders switching from illegal to legal services. The IFPI also says that in spite of the rise in broadband usage, illegal music downloads have remained flat.

However, it says it needs to keep the pressure up. “The legal actions will only work as a deterrent if people think there is more to come,” said John Kennedy, chairman and chief executive of the IFPI.

The organisation will announce legal actions in countries including Portugal, Sweden, Iceland and Italy. However, it says that hundreds of people have already paid an average of €2,633 ($3,190) in fines to settle with the IFPI and its affiliate national music bodies.

So far, internet service providers have refused to co-operate, although in Denmark last month, the supreme court ruled that ISPs were obliged to terminate the connections of customers engaged in music piracy.

Mr Kennedy said he was trying to negotiate with Brussels to set up the music equivalent of the Online Film Charter. The charter, which is expected to define how films will be available legally online, will be announced by Viviane Reding, the media commissioner, and the film industry at the Cannes film festival next month.

The music industry had lobbied unsuccessfully to be included in the charter. “I’m fairly pessimistic about this. We feel Brussels may have missed an important opportunity to address the issues [surrounding music piracy],” Mr Kennedy said.

Digital downloads are now powering the pop charts. In the UK, the largest market for mobile and online music outside Japan, “Crazy” by the hip hop act Gnarls Barkley reached number one on the official single charts last weekend purely through digital purchases.

The single has been available since March 13 through internet downloads, but has not yet been released in record stores.

The IFPI predicts digital downloads will increase further as the number of legal music downloading sites increase.

There are now 330 legal digital downloading sites worldwide and record companies made $1.1bn, or 5 per cent of overall revenue, from legal downloads.

Thanks to the popularity of the Apple iPod, the portable music player, the company’s iTunes is still the leading download site, accounting for about 80 per cent of all legal music download traffic.

There are about 2m tracks or 165,000 albums available legally on the internet.

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