The music industry has targeted 459 prolific "uploaders" in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and the UK, who they accuse of illegally providing their music collections to others on online file-sharing networks.
The crackdown on European file-sharers has gathered strength
Trade group the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said on Thursday it had filed civil and criminal lawsuits against the music "pirates" who share songs for free.
"We are taking this action as a last resort and we are doing it after a very long public awareness campaign," IFPI chairman Jay Berman said according to Reuters news agency.
"We have spent more than a year discussing the damage illegal file-sharing is doing to the music industry, including countless warnings of the legal consequences. Now finally we are at the point where the law has to be enforced," Berman said.
Biggest action outside US
Kazaa allows free access to music and video files online
Using software such as Kazaa, the Internet users make music they have collected available to others via peer-to-peer Internet file exchanges.
The IFPI's actions on behalf of industry giants, including EMI, Universal Music and Warner Music, said the series of suits was the largest such action undertaken outside the United States. There, the Recording Industry Association of America has taken legal action against 5,700 prolific file-sharers since 2003.
German Phonographic Industry head Gerd Gebhardt said Thursday that legal action was effective in damming the tide. "The number of users and the shared music files has noticeably declined, particularly on Kazaa," he said. "That's why in recent weeks we have pressed charges against illegal music providers in numerous file-exchange networks in 100 further cases."
The German music industry won its first case against a music "pirate" in June, after a 23-year-old from the eastern city of Cottbus was convicted of copyright infringement and sentenced to an €8,000 ($9,842) fine in addition to covering the legal costs of the suit. The IFPI took legal action against 68 German "uploaders" in March.
The IFPI estimates that last year 7.3 million Internet users in Germany downloaded more than 600 million songs that had been illegally made available to them.
The music industry blames free peer-to-peer file sharing for slumps in CD sales. Between 1997 and 2003 the value of the German music market dropped by €800 million according to the IFPI.