Police searched 130 premises May 23.

Germany is taking the largest single action against illegal file-sharing as 3,500 individuals face criminal prosecution today (May 23) for uploading large amounts of copyrighted material on peer-to-peer networks.

Police in Cologne and Bergheim searched 130 premises today to gather evidence in the investigations, which have been under way for several months. Investigators identified individual illegal music file-sharers who were each using the eDonkey network to offer up to 8,000 copyright infringing music files on the Internet.

Each of the individuals faces criminal prosecution and civil claims for compensation—likely to reach several thousand euros—for distributing music on file-sharing networks, without permission, for millions of others to download.

In Germany, the IFPI reports that legal physical sales of music have fallen by a third in five years, while more than 400 million music files were downloaded illegally in 2005 alone.

The German recording industry has taken high-profile actions against file-sharers since early 2004. They are part of an international campaign that has seen more than 7,000 legal proceedings brought against uploaders in the last three years. Hundreds of settlements have resulted in file-sharers paying an average of 2,500 euros ($3,208) in damages.

Michael Haentjes, chairman of IFPI Germany and chairman/CEO of Edel Music, said, “The important message to all internet users is that you cannot rely on being undiscovered when committing crime online."

The Public Prosecution Service of Cologne and the Police Authority of Bergheim coordinated the actions.