"It's iTunes and the new Napster and Wal-Mart, Amazon, Dell, Real, Microsoft and others versus Kazaa, Imesh and Grokster. It's whether or not digital music will be enjoyed in a fashion that supports the creative process or one that robs it of its future."
That's RIAA boss Mitch Bainwol's official position on the decision to dramatically ramp up its sue 'em all war on people the RIAA's owners, the major record labels, accuse of violating copyrights.
The trade organ (the Recording Industry Association of America, in full) acts as enforcer for the Big Five - Universal Music Group; Sony Music Entertainment; EMI Group; Warner Brothers Music; and, BMG Entertainment.
Today, the labels announced they're suing 532 people, but the game has changed. Bainwol claims "The context as we move forward has improved dramatically".
What he means is: following the Verizon decision under which the RIAA was forced to stop using the instant subpoenas it had been able to get under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), it now has follow due process - like everyone else in America.
The RIAA has produced a FAQ to explain it all.
Now read on >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Frequently Asked Questions About The Recording Industry's Use of "John Doe" Lawsuits
By the RIAA
Where else/how often have John Doe suits been filed?
Many plaintiffs file John Doe lawsuits when they do not know the name of the person against whom they are taking legal action. For example, the jewelry industry made use of the John Doe procedure when Rolex filed hundreds of lawsuits against individuals passing off counterfeit Rolex watches as genuine, but the company did not know the name of the sellers. In the online context, this litigation tool is used with increasing frequency.
Do these suits allege anything different from those filed last year?
These lawsuits are similar to the suits we filed last year against individual infringers. The underlying copyright infringement has not changed, nor has the fact that it is clearly illegal to download and upload copyrighted works on a peer-to-peer network without authorization. As with our lawsuits last year, we are seeking damages and injunctive relief for copyright infringement under the federal copyright laws - specifically, Title 17 of the United States Code, which among other things provides penalties for the unauthorized reproduction, distribution, or digital transmission of copyrighted sound recordings.
How are these suits different from the suits you filed last fall and winter?
The only difference between these "John Doe" lawsuits and the litigations we filed last year is the procedural process by which we file them. Instead of issuing a subpoena first to learn an infringer's identity, we file a lawsuit first and then issue the subpoena subsequently.
You said your first round of lawsuits last year were against the "worst cases." Is that the case with these suits?
These lawsuits will be similar to those we filed last year. We are targeting major offenders.
What kind of penalties does the law allow now and what are you seeking?
Nothing has changed. Under federal law, copyright holders can sue infringers for statutory damages ranging from $750 to $150,000 for each of their copyrighted works that have been illegally copied or distributed. We intend to leave it up to the court to decide what kind of damages should be paid. We continue to seek settlements wherever possible.
How can you offer illegal file sharers an opportunity for settlement given you have to sue first now?
Unfortunately, we are no longer able to send a pre-lawsuit notification letter in advance and offer a chance for settlement before filing a lawsuit. Nonetheless, we wanted to go the extra mile to develop a variation of the program that has so far been successful. After learning the identities of illegal file sharers through "John Doe" litigations, but before amending the complaint with the infringer's name and address, the RIAA would offer the opportunity to settle the case before proceeding any further with the litigation.
How does filing John Doe lawsuits change the manner in which you collect evidence for a lawsuit?
It doesn't. Our evidence collection process involves searching only for files that are readily available to every other member of the public.
Here's how it works: When you log onto a peer-to-peer network, your P2P software has a default setting that automatically informs the network of your user name and the names and sizes of the files on your hard drive that are available for copying.
Because all this information is publicly available to anyone on the network, it's relatively easy to look for-and find-users who are offering to "share" copyrighted music files. The networks could not work if this were not the case. We search the network for infringing files, similar to the way other users search the network.
When we come across a user who is distributing copyrighted music files, we download copyrighted music files (of our member companies) the user is offering, as well as document the date and time that we downloaded those files.
Additional information that is publicly available from these systems allows us to identify the user's Internet Service Provider (ISP). After manually reviewing the information to confirm that infringement has occurred, we can then decide whether it justifies filing a John Doe lawsuit, using the individual's Internet Protocol (IP) address as a placeholder for the person's name.
All that changes is the process by which we obtain the name of the individual engaged in the illegal activity in order to file a lawsuit against that individual.