The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said earlier this week it sued individuals across the United States for as much as $150,000 per song distributed online, targeting the biggest users, those with large libraries of pirated music.

“If kids start getting arrested and dragged out of dorms and fined, other kids will definitely think twice before doing it,” said Eric Cioe, a biology student at New York University (NYU).

But other students at NYU, located in the city where 70 of the 261 legal cases were filed, were outraged.

Many students upload music and make it available on the internet through file-sharing programmess such as Kazaa and Imesh. The new cases switch the record industry’s focus from those file-sharing companies to the users of file-sharing programmess instead.

Another student said downloading free music was fair because compact discs were overpriced.

Companies adamant

"I just want one song from a CD, and I don't want to pay 22 bucks for it. I don't think any amount of legislation is going to force us to buy CDs."

Erica Olsen, law student

RIAA members include the "Big Six" record companies: Vivendi Universal’s Universal group, Sony Corporation’s Sony Music, AOL Time Warner Incorporated's Warner Music, Bertelsmann AG’s BMG and EMI group PLC.

The companies have vowed to file thousands more lawsuits in the coming months against individuals who swap music. The industry believes minimising file-sharing will stem the three-year decline in global record music sales.

Music companies and national trade bodies are pursuing individual cases in Denmark, Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

But the blanket region-wide lawsuit strategy, for now, will play out only in the United States where the music industry estimates roughly 90% of all file-sharers reside.

Four university students who were sued earlier this year for operating campus-wide music-sharing programmess reached settlements under which they would pay between $12,000 and $17,500 to the recording industry.

Students have access to “peer-to-peer” networks on university computer systems which enable them to swap music with thousands of people.

RIAA announced an amnesty programme for individuals not currently under investigation which would remove the threat of prosecution from those who promise to refrain from such an activity in the future and erase all copyrighted music they have downloaded.