Music pirates beware.
Until now, the recording industry has appealed to those who download music online to voluntarily cease and desist. It's mostly failed. Some 2.6 billion songs are illegally downloaded each month, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
So RIAA announced Wednesday it would take legal action against individuals who share online music files. Though it will likely begin by suing the biggest online music swappers such as Grokster and Kazaa, it also plans to later go after individual swappers in court, too.
RIAA's case against piracy is compelling. In 2000, the 10 best-selling CDs together sold 60 million copies. That dropped to 40 million in 2001, and 34 million last year. But its solution is antiquated.
The legal pathway for RIAA was made wider after Internet service provider Verizon lost a court case that called on it to release the names of four subscribers the RIAA said were illegally offering copyrighted music.
But, music industry, take note: There are other ways to deal with piracy than simply suing everybody who trades a Dixie Chicks song online - especially when some 57 million Americans regularly use music file-sharing software, and not everybody is ripping off their favorite artists.
When Apple recently launched its iTunes Music Shop program - offering songs for download at 99 cents apiece - over 5 million copies were sold in the first two months alone. And that's just to Apple users.
Although the courts haven't been completely clear on piracy, consumers should not think downloading a song is the same as swapping a CD with a friend.
Let's hope innovative successes like Apple's will serve to keep the pirates at bay, RIAA out of the courts, and music lovers honest.