A US Court has ruled that Internet service providers cannot be forced to identify file-sharers...

The music industry has suffered a blow in its attempts to clampdown on file sharers as a US Court has ruled that Internet service providers cannot be forced to identify file-sharers.

Hundreds of illegal downloaders have been snared after ISPs were forced to give out their names and addresses to the record industry. However, the latest ruling could have deprived the record companies of their most effective weapon in the fight against file-swapping.

Verizon – the US telecom giant – supported the District of Columbia Appeals court ruling and a spokesperson for the company said: “Consumers’ rights cannot be trampled upon in the quest to enforce (the music industry’s) copyright.”

Although the new ruling will not affect around 400 lawsuits that have already been filed against downloaders, it does mean that record companies will now have to file lawsuits against anonymous defendants. They will then have to take separate legal steps to discover their identities, making the process more expensive and time-wasting.

However, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) remain confident that they will continue to clampdown on illegal file sharing.

According to BBC News, Cary Sherman said that the music industry would “continue to defend our rights online on behalf of artists, songwriters, and countless others involved in bringing music to the public”.

A further 220 cases where downloaders will have to pay fines of up to $7,500 each are expected to still go ahead.

Next year will see the launch of several new legal music websites, through which people will be able to download music for a small price.

As previously reported on NME.COM, Wal-Mart are to launch a cut-price downloading music service next year, undercutting the market leader – Apple’s iTunes.

The supermarket giant, who also own the Asda chain, will offer individual songs for 88 cents (50p) compared with iTunes selling at 99 cents. The tracks will also have the capability to be burned onto CD.

Coca-Cola will also launch their own UK music-download service in the New Year, which they claim will feature the largest available catalogue of songs online.

The soft drinks company will offer a legal alternative to file-sharing at and boast 250,000 available tracks from over 8,500 artists.