Note to the millions who use file-swapping services to download music: The Recording Industry Association of America is watching you and knows who you are. Some 200,000 file-swappers received an instant message to that effect on Tuesday, and millions more will get them in the coming weeks, the RIAA told Reuters.
''It appears that you are offering copyrighted music to others from your computer,'' the message to Grokster and KaZaa users read. ''When you break the law, you risk legal penalties. There is a simple way to avoid that risk: DON'T STEAL MUSIC either by offering it to others to copy or downloading it on a 'file-sharing' system like this. When you offer music on these systems, you are not anonymous and you can easily be identified.
The messages come four days after a U.S. District Court judge ruled against the RIAA's request to shut down Grokster and Morpheus, in a decision that said the services can't be expected to police their customers because they lack central servers (like Napster used to have) that keep track of traded content. Lately, the RIAA has also taken to suing individual users, Internet service providers, and colleges whose computer networks show a heavy traffic in music downloading by students. One ISP defendant, Verizon, told Reuters that Tuesday's instant messages contradict the industry's claim that ISPs should police their customers because the RIAA can't. ''I think this undermines their case because now they are acknowledging they can contact the users on a massive scale,'' a Verizon attorney said.