The music industry on Tuesday stepped up its campaign against illegal online file sharing by announcing the launch of more than 2,100 lawsuits against individuals in 16 countries stretching from Sweden to Argentina.

The International Federation of Phonogram and Videogram Producers (IFPI), which has co-ordinated most of the campaigns against music and video piracy outside the US, said the lawsuits represented the “biggest escalation yet” in its efforts to tackle a problem that is blamed for a 22 per cent decline in compact disc sales over the past five years.

The additional legal cases bring the total launched so far to more than 3,800. Although most were brought against “uploaders” in Germany, cases were brought for the first time in Sweden, Switzerland, Argentina, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The cases announced on Tuesday have been launched since April, and target the users of file-sharing software offered by peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa, Gnutella, eDonkey and BitTorrent. Between March 2004 and this April, 1,597 cases had been launched, of which 521 had so far resulted in settlements or sanctions, an IFPI spokeswoman said.

The IFPI and its US counterpart, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which has similarly supported legal action against thousands of file-sharers, have been criticised for launching legal campaigns when legitimate online music download services were scarce.

However, John Kennedy, IFPI chairman and chief executive, said there was “simply no excuse” to use illegal file-sharing services, known as P2P software, to obtain copyrighted music for free.

“There are 2m tracks available on over 300 sites across the world where consumers can download safely and legally and buy, subscribe to or listen to online music at fantastic value,” he said. No country was immune from the enforcement of copyright laws, he added.

The music industry sees piracy - sharing of music either over the internet or by copying CDs - as one of its biggest threats. The 10 per cent reduction in the number of illegal music files available online since June 2003 suggests industry efforts are having success.

Last week Sony BMG, a music label, was forced to back down over anti-piracy software it built into some of its music CDs since March this year. Sony BMG said it would “temporarily suspend” use of the soft-ware, which surreptitiously installed itself on users' computers, after it was foundto facilitate attacks by viruses.

Also last week the maker of Grokster, a file-sharing programme, said it would stop distributing its software following a defeat in the US Supreme Court and a settlement with the RIAA.

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