The US noose is tightening around peer-to-peer (P2P) users with simultaneous action by the music industry and US law enforcement.

The Department of Justice yesterday despatched federal law enforcement officials to raid five homes and one ISP in the first such action against peer-to-peer networks. Authorities seized computers, software and computer equipment from locations in Texas, New York and Wisconsin.

The action targeted illegal distribution of copyright protected movies, software, games and music on five P2P networks operated by a group known as The Underground Network, the DOJ said in a statement. No charges have been filed. The crackdown on file sharing is part of an ongoing investigation dubbed Operation Digital Gridlock, the DOJ said.

RIAA acts again

Also yesterday, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed 896 new lawsuits against file traders using P2P services, the organization announced Wednesday.

The total includes 744 new lawsuits against users of a variety of P2P services, including Kazaa, eDonkey and Grokster. The RIAA filed an additional 152 lawsuits against people already identified in the litigation process who declined RIAA offers to settle their cases, according to the RIAA.

Not including the lawsuits announced Wednesday, the RIAA has filed more than 1,500 lawsuits against alleged music uploaders since January.

But P2P vendors continue to question the RIAA tactics. Instead of suing music fans, the RIAA should negotiate a way to pay artists with vendors, said Adam Eisgrau, executive director of P2P United, a trade group representing five P2P vendors, including Grokster and eDonkey.

"Nothing's new," Eisgrau said of the new lawsuits. "The fact that the RIAA has the right to bring these lawsuits doesn't make them the right thing to do."

Eisgrau called the lawsuits "highly unproductive."

"These kinds of suits just can't be squared with a pathological refusal to so much as even discuss collective licensing proposals advanced by respected academics and economists across the country," Eisgrau added.

EDonkey owner Meta Machine has tried to talk with music labels about licensing music for the P2P service during the past six months, said Sam Yagan, president of the company. The lawsuits announced Wednesday are the first such lawsuits against eDonkey users to Yagan's knowledge, he said.

Meta Machine is more concerned about the lawsuits' influence on those discussions with music labels than the potential negative effect on the number of eDonkey users, Yagan said.

"I thought, prior to today, we had been making some real progress with the labels and the studios," he said. "This comes as a total surprise. This is not the behaviour of a business partner acting in good faith."