Record industry mounts IM campaign against file swappers

The IFPI recording industry association is using instant messaging to target file swappers outside the US - but says this is not a prelude to mass litigation

Record companies on Thursday began sending warnings by instant message (IM) to music file swappers in Australia, Canada, Denmark and Germany as part of what industry association IFPI called an "educational exercise" to remind people that downloading copyrighted music can in some circumstances be illegal.

The exercise demonstrates how commercial organisations are beginning to use instant messaging to get corporate messages across. The IFPI represents the recording industry worldwide, with more than 1,500 record company members in over 75 countries and has affiliated national associations in 46 countries. Its initiative mirrors a similar move by the Recording Industry Association of America earlier this year, which was followed with hundreds of subpoenas to file swappers across the US.

An IFPI spokesman said its IM campaign was not a prelude to mass litigation outside the US, but indicated that this could still be an option.

"We haven't ruled out any mind of litigation," said IFPI general counsel Allen Dixon. "But there has not been any announcements to bring lots of cases, and I think there is a view that awareness and education still is very much needed in these markets."

Dixon pointed out that even if litigation did follow, suing people for uploading quantities of music in Europe would not be a new thing. "Even over the past year there have been demands against users in Denmark (last December), in Germany last April, and in Italy there have been 150 users raided in the past six months, while the Swiss had a case earlier this year where users had been prosecuted criminally for uploading to Napster." But, he added, "this campaign is not about that. It is about education."

The IFPI believes there is still a need for more awareness among users of the legal issues related to file-swapping, but that the need differs according to geography. "The Canadians have a more friendly message," said Dixon, while other countries have more legalistic problems. Germans focus on security."

Although suspicions arose on one digital-music mailing list that the IFPI was using IP mapping technology to identify the location of users, Dixon said he believed the national affiliates of the IFPI were simply searching for file swappers who host music from that country and sending them an instant message using the IM facility in file-swapping applications such as Kazaa.

The text of the message sent to Canadian file swappers read:

"Warning. It appears that you are offering copyrighted music to others from your computer. While we appreciate your love of music, please be aware that sharing copyrighted music on the Internet without permission from the copyright owner is illegal. When you do so, you hurt the artists, songwriters and musicians who create the music and the other talented individuals who are involved in bringing you the music. More than 40,000 Canadians work hard producing and supporting the music you appear to enjoy, including producers, engineers, retailers, music publishers, distributors, manufacturers, record companies, concert promoters and broadcasters. When you break the law, you risk legal penalties. There is a simple way to avoid that risk: Don¹t distribute music to others on a file-sharing system like this. For further information, please go to www.cria.ca. Remember that you need music and music needs you.

The message sent to German file-swappers said that in their own interests their attention was being drawn to the fact that offering music for download on the Internet without authorization from the copyright holder breaks copyright law, which can result in demands for compensation and criminal sanctions.

When asked why the UK was not on the list of target countries, an IFPI spokeswoman said that countries with high broadband penetration and a large number of active file swappers had been targeted.