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File-sharers face legal onslaught

The music industry has launched a fresh legal assault on people accused of illegal file-sharing. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) is taking legal action against nearly 2,000 song-swappers in 10 countries. The British music industry says illegal file-sharing has cost it £1.1bn over the last three years. But a report suggests that illegal downloads are continuing to grow despite the legal risks. Research firm XTN data said that illegal downloads in the UK have increased by 3% to 28% of music downloads since last September. Fuelling file-sharing Last year the UK record industry's trade association, BPI, won landmark court cases that resulted in two file-sharers paying thousands of pounds in damages for their online activities. But the XTN report suggested that fear of legal action was the least effective option to encourage people to use commercial services. Cheaper prices, the removal of digital rights management (DRM) on tracks, and services that are easier to use would encourage them to move to commercial services, it said. "Clunky software, difficulty in finding tracks and over zealous protection limiting where customers can play music they've bought are continuing to fuel file-sharing," said Greig Harper, founder of XTN Data. But the report suggested that legal threats could make some people change their minds. Of the 1,000 people surveyed, 41% of file-sharers said that the risk of legal action would make them consider using file-sharing software less. Latest actions The new courts cases are aimed at uploaders, the people who make music available on file sharing networks. The IFPI said they are targeting what it calls persistent file-sharers, who typically upload thousands of music files. Most of the new court cases are being brought against people in Europe. The IFPI already have many ongoing cases, including 153 in the UK. The latest batch include the first cases in Portugal where the IFPI say sales of traditional music formats have fallen by 40% in the last four years. "This is a significant escalation in our worldwide campaign against illegal file-sharing," said John Kennedy, the chairman and chief executive of IFPI. "The campaign started in major music markets where sales were falling sharply; now these legal actions have spread to smaller markets." Parental warning If the IFPI wins the cases, the defendants could end up paying compensation of several thousand euros. In Germany, where 542 people have made financial settlements with the music industry, the average payout is 2,670 euros (£1,900). But the IFPI is keen to point out that it is not always the uploader who ends up footing the bill. It has warned parents that they are responsible for their children's online activities. Last year Sylvia Price was fined £2,500 after her 14-year-old daughter, Emily was accused of sharing music on the internet. The latest actions take the total number of cases against uploaders outside of the USA to 5,500. In the US, the record industry has mounted 18,000 lawsuits against people accused of illegal song-swapping. The industry says that these cases are helping to win their war on illegal file-sharers and are encouraging people to use legal services. According to XTN Data, legal downloads are up by five per cent since last September. The most popular legal download site is iTunes with 44% of the market. This is followed by Moscow-based, which accounts for 14% of legal downloads, according to the report. The Russian service offers entire albums for a pound, compared to 80 pence per track on most sites. The IFPI regard the service as illegal and tried to have the site shutdown last year, but failed. Napster, who re-launched as a legal service in 2004, took third position with 8% UKFast is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

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