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Record Companies Announce Halt to Mass Lawsuits, Will Ask ISPs to Slow or Cut Off Service Instead

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This morning, the RIAA announced that it will cease filing mass lawsuits on behalf of major record companies against individual users of file-sharing software, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. It is estimated that an approximate 35,000 users have been sued in these cases since 2003. Instead, as reported by Wired, the music industry trade association will focus on working directly with Internet Service Providers to slow or cut off Internet service to frequent offenders.

Some commentators reacted skeptically to aspects of the RIAA's announcement. The alternative tactic raised new concerns regarding whether suspected piracy would become a pretext for filtering content or spying on users. Others noted discrepancies in the RIAA's statements. The Associated Press reported that the record companies claimed to have "stopped sending out new lawsuits and warnings in August" and Wired quoted Cara Duckworth, an RIAA spokesperson, as stating "the RIAA has not instituted a new lawsuit for months." However, defense attorney Ray Beckerman reports at least 16 new lawsuits were filed since December 4, 2008. LAist reported that record companies were contacting USC students as of last week.

The RIAA's stated decision to shift focus from minor offenders to major copyright infringers coincides with an effort to involve government in prosecuting piracy-related crimes. On Monday, Culver City resident Kevin Cogill pleaded guilty to criminal charges brought by the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles for copyright infringement related to leaking the Guns N' Roses album, "Chinese Democracy".

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Photo by Joe Hall via Flickr.