The French recorded music industry has confirmed it will launch legal action against individual file sharers. The move--unveiled today during a media briefing organized by labels body SNEP--falls in l

The French recorded music industry has confirmed it will launch legal action against individual file sharers. The move--unveiled today during a media briefing organized by labels body SNEP--falls in line with similar action by the RIAA and IFPI.

Legal action will be accompanied by a press and TV advertising campaign carrying the message: "Free music: there is a price to pay." The advertisements will warn infringers that they face a maximum of 3 years' imprisonment and fines of €300,000 ($358,000).

"We don't like the idea of suing our consumers," says Universal France CEO Pascal Nègre. "So as we respect them, we want to inform them of the risks of piracy first." The first round of lawsuits will likely begin this summer.

Details of the campaign were unveiled as SNEP announced the value of the country's recorded music business in the first quarter fell 21.4% year-on-year to €223 million ($266 million). The decline, which had been expected, means that the French audio market has lost nearly €100 million ($119 million), or 11 million units, in the past two years.

SNEP highlights the decline in album sales, down 21% from the corresponding period last year to 21.9 million units, the format's lowest level in a decade.

"It's an extremely tense situation for us," says SNEP president Gilles Bressand. "We're told the drop in sales must be our fault, but you have to be blind not to see the similarities between the rise in broadband connections and the decrease in music sales in France.

"We were late to set up legitimate online offers, but this problem is now solved," adds Bressand, referring to the expected June arrival of French retailer Fnac's download service fnacmusic.com, along with competing services from Sony, iTunes Music Store and Napster.