In the largest single action aimed at curbing internet piracy in Germany, charges have been pressed against 3,500 users of the popular file-swapping network eDonkey.
Internet users are yet to be convinced to give up a free ride on peer-to-peer networks
In a joint action by the German police and the Cologne Public Prosecutor's Office, some 130 apartments were raided state-wide on Tuesday in search of evidence for illegal file sharing on the internet.
As a result of the action, more than 3,500 users of the file-swapping network eDonkey have been identified and hit with criminal charges for breach of copyright. They are now facing fines of up to 15,000 euros ($19,000) or prison sentences of up to three years.
eDonkey is not the only piece of software which enables peer-to-peer data sharing
"This was the largest action against illegal file-sharing offers on the internet that has ever been carried out in Germany," said public prosecutor Jürgen Krautkremer.
Illegal file sharing is usually thought of as the favorite pastime of the younger generation of internet users, but the state-wide, coordinated swoop by the German police reveals a different story.
"Contrary to popular belief, (illegal file sharing) is by no means about young people only," Krautkremer said.
People of all ages were found to be engaged in illegal, copyright-violating activities.
An internet hunt
The music industry feels crippled by internet piracy
A couple of months ago, according to Krautkremer, investigators started monitoring a server located in the German city of Hürth, southwest of Cologne. The server, whose owners are not being prosecuted, was itself connected to the eDonkey peer-to-peer network for data exchange.
Using a special piece of software, developed by the International Federation of Phonographic Industry, the investigators profiled and analyzed some 800,000 records , including a 14-gigabyte log file which contained around 40,000 internet addresses.
Individual users were identified with the help of internet providers, and search warrants were issued for those users who could be proved to have shared more than 500 files or, approximately, 25 to 30 CDs during the period under observation.
The music industry greeted the outcome of the police action in Germany.
"No one should be surprised that we are stepping up our campaign in this way," said John Kennedy, chairman and chief executive of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).
"Internet piracy has hurt the whole music community in Germany, with legitimate sales falling by a third in just five years," he said.
According to IFPI, some 400 million copyright infringing music files were downloaded illegally last year in Germany.
"When music gets stolen, there is less money left to invest in new musicians," Kennedy said.