Music critics beware. The IFPI is putting the clamps on prerelease leaks. London-based IFPI chairman/CEO John Kennedy says the trade association is taking on so-called "ripping groups" dedicated to getting prerelease music onto the Net ahead of street date.

"We have just got to tighten up on leaks," he says. "If you have a prerelease copy of a record, it should be treated like gold-kept safe in a bank."

Kennedy's comments came in the wake of a two-year investigation by the IFPI and its U.K. affiliate the BPI into the activities of oink.cd, described by the IFPI as a major player in the black market for distributing major albums weeks before the official release date. The trade bodies claimed a coup Oct. 23 when Interpol coordinated a number of police raids on OiNK principals in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Now Kennedy is threatening a new wave of actions targeting anyone responsible for ripping and uploading works ahead of release, including, he says, music journalists. OiNK "was the first in our sights," he says. "The damage being done with prerelease piracy is almost immeasurable. It ruins the launch of a record [and] damages the impact on the market for all records."

Within 24 hours of the raids, oink.cd was replaced with a grey screen featuring the IFPI and BPI insignias. One unnamed man in Britain was arrested, but the real fallout, the IFPI warns, will be felt when the trade body scrutinizes data on the site's estimated 180,000 users, who paid "donations" to access the service.

According to a message posted on oink.cd, "A criminal investigation continues into the identities and activities of the site's users." The IFPI did not reveal what further action would be taken.

Trackers appear unphased by the move. One writer on the peer-to-peer (P2P) biased blog TorrentFreak writes, "Everyone in the BitTorrent world will be familiar with the propaganda put out by anti-piracy organizations and many will be familiar with a similar situation a few years ago when the LokiTorrent tracker was closed and seemingly none of the users were tracked down."

Kennedy and his piracy team is keeping mum on which other private trackers-with such names as TranceTraffic, Exigo, VIP Music, stmusic, shareaza.com and Pedro's BT Music-are also in the IFPI's cross-hairs. "We expect [OiNK] users will start to migrate to some of these sites over the next few days. We are watching their movements," an IFPI spokesman says. "It's a case of 'watch this space.' "

Intellectual property experts doubt the latest initiative will strike fear in the ripping-group community. "The combined efforts of IFPI, the BPI and RIAA do not appear to have stemmed the tide of digital piracy," music lawyer Paddy Gardner of Eversheds says. "To target pirates like this takes time, effort and money and they are battling sophisticated individuals who are prepared to take a calculated risk that they can keep one step ahead."
Gardner admits there are "plenty of candidates" for legal action, "but certainly in relation to some sites, there must be political backing for there to be any real effect and even then, there seem to be plenty of others who are prepared to fulfill the P2P demand."