updated 2/3/2005 8:13:36 PM ET 2005-02-04T01:13:36

Dozens of French musicians, intellectuals and politicians are criticizing what they call a "repressive" crackdown against those who download music illegally over the Internet.

The campaign is believed to be one of the first of its kind in Europe to unite musicians and consumers in a backlash against the music industry's tactic of filing lawsuits against illegal downloaders.

Hundreds of Web surfers across Europe are facing legal action for downloading music files with peer-to-peer, or P2P, sharing networks.

"We denounce this repressive and disproportionate policy, whose victims are just a few scapegoats," said signatories of the campaign, led by weekly Le Nouvel Observateur in its edition published Thursday. "Like at least 8 million other French people, we also have downloaded music online and are also potential criminals," the open letter said. "We demand a stop to these ridiculous legal pursuits."

Well-known artists including Manu Chao, Matthieu Chedid (M) and Yann Tiersen, score composer for the hit French film "Amelie," added their signatures to the campaign entitled "Free up music!"

French Industry Minister Patrick Devedjian said he agreed that "every campaign of blind and brutal repression is not only ineffective, but harms all people concerned."

However, he told TF1 television that "the concept of everything for free is an illusion."

Brian Molko, singer for British rock band Placebo, expressed opposition to the campaign, saying, "Who ever said that we musicians would be the only people in the world who work for free?"

On Wednesday, a criminal court in the Paris suburb of Pontoise fined a teacher about 10,000 euros ($13,000) in damages for counterfeiting after he was found guilty of downloading nearly 10,000 tracks.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, an industry group based in London, and its affiliates have filed thousands of lawsuits against those who allegedly shared music illegally.

In the United States, the recording industry has sued more than 7,000 people over illegal downloads.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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