Internet service providers (ISPs) have begun fighting back against the blitzkrieg of lawsuits launched by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in its struggle to contain the file-sharing phenomenon.

On Monday, August 11, NetCoalition, a trade association of ISPs, sent a letter to the RIAA questioning its tactics in litigating against Internet users and the companies that serve them. The group pointed out that file sharing is not illegal, and expressed fear that the RIAA's efforts could lead to "an attack on the legitimate uses of peer-to-peer technology."

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allows aggrieved copyright holders to obtain the identities of suspected violators. To date, the RIAA has issued subpoenas against more than 1000 individuals, has won a Federal court ruling against Verizon Communications' Internet division to divulge the identity of a suspected "node" for music downloads, and has similar cases pending in other courts. Kevin McGuiness, executive director of NetCoalition, wrote that his organization believed that "valid concerns about the downloading of copyrighted material" led the RIAA to overreact.

NetCoalition accused the music industry of using scare tactics to dissuade music fans from sharing tunes online. ISPs face the loss of customers if they capitulate too readily to RIAA demands to betray their privacy. McGuiness asked the RIAA to explain "what they are really trying to do."

In response to the letter from NetCoalition, the RIAA stated that it is willing to negotiate with any potential courtroom adversaries but is not ready to ease its campaign against file sharing. "We welcome the opportunity to sit down with anyone in the ISP community to discuss Internet piracy and how we can work together constructively," said RIAA spokeswoman Amy Weiss. "We look forward to dispelling some of the gross inaccuracies contained in the letter and hope that these ISPs will help to foster the legitimate online music marketplace."

In Washington, Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) will make good on a promise made earlier this month to investigate the recording industry's campaign against ordinary citizens. On August 14, Coleman announced that his Senate Governmental Affairs' Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was reviewing information it had received from the RIAA in response to its inquiry about the mass litigation. Having earlier expressed concern that innocent people could get caught in the music industry's dragnet, Coleman said that his committee would examine the scope of the antipiracy campaign and the industry's tactics against downloaders, and would also review legislation that could expand criminal penalties for downloading. The subcommittee chairman said he hopes "to assist in the development of remedies that will be reasonable and narrowly tailored to fit the extent of infringement."