The recording industry sued 532 people Tuesday, including scores of individuals using computer networks at 21 universities, claiming they were illegally sharing digital music files over the Internet.

This latest wave of copyright lawsuits brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (search) on behalf of recording companies marks the first time the trade group has targeted computer users swapping music files over university networks.

The RIAA filed the "John Doe" complaints against 89 individuals using networks at universities in Arizona, California, New York, Indiana, Maryland, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Washington. Lawsuits were also filed against 443 people using commercial Internet access providers in California, Colorado, Missouri, Texas and Virginia.

The recording group did not name which Internet access providers the defendants were using.

With the so-called "John Doe" lawsuits, the recording industry must work through the courts to find out the identities of the defendants, which at the outset are only identified by the numeric Internet protocol addresses assigned to computers online.

The defendants, which the trade group claims offered "substantial amounts" of music files, face potential civil penalties or settlements that could cost them thousands of dollars. Settlements in previous cases have averaged $3,000 each.

"We are sending a clear message that downloading or 'sharing' music from a peer-to-peer network without authorization is illegal, it can have consequences and it undermines the creative future of music itself," RIAA president Cary Sherman (search) said in a statement.

Including Tuesday's filings, the recording industry has sued 1,977 people since launching its legal assault against online music piracy last fall and reached out-of-court settlements in around 400 of the cases.