Major music labels launched legal action yesterday against 247 individual file sharers in Denmark, Germany, Italy and Canada.

The labels allege the file sharers have made copyright-protected music available on file-swapping services. The news is an expansion of the major label's tactics of prosecuting music lovers as the labels attempt to maintain their hold on the means of music manufacture and distribution.

The actions in Europe and Canada are aimed at individuals who offered hundreds of files for download, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said. Further action against "major uploaders" will be launched in different countries in the coming months, said the IFPI.

Swedish and UK copyright holders are launching an instant messaging campaign to put users of file-sharing services on notice that they face legal retaliation if they continue offering copyright-protected music online, the IFPI said.

It's all about control

Sharing music online is stealing and hurts music sales as well as the livelihoods of people involved in creating music, the IFPI claims. Educational campaigns are insufficient without litigation, said IFPI Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jay Berman.

The IFPI sees RIAA's action in the US as a success. Some studies show that usage of file-swapping services dropped in the wake of RIAA's pursuit of individual file sharers. However usage is increasing again.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project in January said the number of US Internet users who download songs on peer-to-peer networks fell from 29 per cent, or about 35 million people, early last year to 14 per cent, or 18 million people, at the end of the year.

Conversley, The NPD Group said in January that use of file-sharing services was up 14 per cent in November 2003 compared with September.

File sharing doesn't hurt music sales – boffins

Global sales of recorded music fell 7 per cent in 2002, according to the IFPI. Numbers for 2003 have not yet been released, but the IFPI estimates another 7 per cent decline. File sharing directly depresses sales, the IFPI states.

Researcher at Harvard and the University of North Carolina disagree. In a report released yesterday, they described the effect of file-sharing on music sales as "statistically indistinguishable from zero".

They blame declining music sales on competition from other formats, the end of the vinyl/cassette to CD upgrade cycle, economic worries on the part of consumers and an increased homogeneity among radio and TV playlists and released music formats.

"The Internet is actually more like the radio than people assume. Users almost always download one or two songs and if they like the album they buy it," said Felix Oberholzer, an associate professor at Harvard Business School who worked on the study.

"The Internet seems to be a great promotional tool. If I can get people to download several songs from an album, maybe the person will actually buy the album," he said.