updated 10/15/2004 8:34:48 PM ET 2004-10-16T00:34:48

The High Court in London has ordered Internet service providers to hand over the names and addresses of 28 alleged music pirates to Britain's trade body for the recording industry.

The British Phonographic Industry Ltd., known as the BPI, welcomed Thursday's judgment from Justice William Blackburne in London. The BPI sought the court order as a first step to suing the 28 people accused of promoting illegal downloading of copyrighted music.

The order came just three days after the U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped a similar dispute, declining to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling where Verizon Communications Inc. successfully challenged the industry's use of subpoenas to seek identifying information about the company's Internet subscribers.

However, other similar cases have been or are expected to be brought to the Supreme Court.

The Recording Industry Association of America began targeting individual file-sharers last year and has brought some 5,500 actions, 504 of which have been settled, usually for a few thousand dollars each.

Last week, an international industry alliance announced that 459 lawsuits were being filed in Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, Italy and Austria accusing individuals and groups of illegally sharing music over the Internet.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry had launched a similar, but smaller, round of lawsuits against illegal file-sharing in Europe and Canada in March. But last week's announcement marked the first time such action has been taken in Britain, France and Austria.

More than 80 people in Germany and Denmark so far have agreed to compensation payments of up to $16,000 each.

The British court order requires ISPs to identify the 28 individuals within two weeks. The BPI called the 28 "major file-sharers" who were providing an estimated 7 million British people, and unknown millions worldwide, with illegal downloads of music.

BPI chairman Peter Jamieson said the 28 are "uploading music on a massive scale, effectively stealing the livelihoods of thousands of artists and the people who invest in them."

The BPI, which represents hundreds of recording companies in Britain, says an estimated 700 million music files were illegally available worldwide on file-sharing networks in June, a decline from a 1 billion high in June 2003. The number of users seeking illegal downloads, it said, has declined 40 percent from its peak in April 2003.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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