The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has filed civil lawsuits against 261 people across the US who have each allegedly uploaded an average of 1,000 songs to P2P networks.
The RIAA has sent about 1,500 subpoenas seeking the names of music sharers, and it has already settled with a handful of file sharers for around $3,000 each, but because the RIAA has taken the next step of filing lawsuits, it is likely to seek more damages in these 261 lawsuits, said Cary Sherman, RIAA president.
The lawsuits were filed against users of several P2P services, including Kazaa, Gnutella and Grokster, and the RIAA is planning more lawsuits against users of other P2P services.
The lawsuits target music uploaders in an attempt to cut off the source of much of the unauthorised music available on P2P services.
In April, the RIAA filed lawsuits against four students who allegedly set up file-trading networks on university campuses, but this is the first time the RIAA has sued individual members of P2P services.
"Nobody likes playing the heavy and having to resort to litigation," said Sherman. "But when you are being victimised by illegal activity, there comes a time when you have to stand up and take appropriate action."
In the RIAA's file-sharing amnesty programme, called the clean slate programe, P2P users who have not yet been investigated by the RIAA can take all the copyrighted music files off their computers and sign an affidavit promising not to share unauthorised music again.
In exchange, the RIAA will promise not to prosecute those people.
Asked why file traders would want to give their names to the RIAA, Sherman said the amnesty programme offers them a clean slate for past file-trading activities.
"We have offered this amnesty programme because we were contacted by people who wanted the assurance, who wanted the comfort of knowing that they wouldn't be subject to a lawsuit for their past behaviour," Sherman said.
"We wanted to offer those people a mechanism to gain that comfort. But if people would prefer to simply stop engaging in the illegal activity, we certainly encourage that."
People who make the promise and then continue to share music are likely to be sued for willful copyright violations, Sharman added.
Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service