The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is waging war on those who upload songs on peer-to-peer networks.

The RIAA is seeking thousands of dollars in damages from 261 people across the US, who have each allegedly uploaded an average of 1,000 songs to peer-to-peer networks. At the same time, the RIAA is offering amnesty to music sharers who promise to stop uploading or downloading copyrighted songs.

The lawsuits are the first filed by the RIAA against peer-to-peer users. The RIAA has already settled with a handful of file sharers for around US$3,000 each, says RIAA president Cary Sherman.

The lawsuits were filed against users of P-to-P services including Kazaa, Gnutella and Grokster.

"Nobody likes playing the heavy and having to resort to litigation," said Sherman, who was joined by a dozen songwriters and music executives in a telephone press conference. "But when you are being victimized by illegal activity, there comes a time when you have to stand up and take appropriate action."

The RIAA's file-sharing amnesty program is called the Clean Slate Program, under which P-to-P users who haven't yet been investigated by the RIAA can take all the copyrighted music files off their computers and sign an affidavit promising not to share unauthorized music again. In exchange, the RIAA will promise not to prosecute.

Amnesty spat On Friday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) discouraged music traders from giving the RIAA their names, saying that other copyright holders could still file lawsuits even if the RIAA granted amnesty. Sherman said the RIAA has been the only music industry organization threatening lawsuits, so “the amnesty would be a near guarantee against a copyright lawsuit against someone signing the pledge”.

“But the RIAA's amnesty program is offered only to people who haven't yet been investigated by the RIAA,” said Jason Schultz, an EFF staff attorney. “Some file traders may not know if they have been investigated by the RIAA, “ he added.

Schultz called the RIAA lawsuits an "unfortunate event" that won't result in the RIAA's ultimate goal of getting artists and songwriters paid for their work. "They've chosen to turn consumers into criminals, tried to litigate them into submission and somehow drag them back into the record store," Schultz said. "This is a desperate move, and it's just going to alienate more people."

Asked if any of the potential settlements would go back to artists, Sherman said it wouldn't. Instead, the money will go back into the RIAA's copyright enforcement efforts, he claims.