Calling it “an abrupt shift in strategy,” the Wall Street Journal said the RIAA will try to work with ISPs and that the trade organization has already struck preliminary agreements with major ISPs. The plan is for the organization to e-mail providers when it suspects customers of illicitly downloading and/or uploading copyrighted music.

After the RIAA contacts a provider, the ISP will forward the e-mail to the customer or send a message stating that he/she appears to be distributing copyrighted material and ask them to stop. If the message goes unheeded, the ISP may send additional warnings and possibly slow down the user’s connection speed. Eventually, the customer will be disconnected if the warnings are ignored.

But don’t break out the bubbly just yet. The RIAA still reserves the right to sick its legal beagles on individual P2P users.

So far, the recording industry has sued about 35,000 people since 2003. However, most people sued by the organization have opted for settling for a few thousand dollars instead of paying lawyer fees for a lawsuit where a decision favoring the labels could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

Critics have condemned the RIAA’s lawsuit strategy of the last five years, saying it does nothing to stem the illegal distribution of copyrighted music and has resulted only in a public relations fiasco for the recording industry.

However, the RIAA says the lawsuits have heightened public awareness of music piracy. Maybe so, but while the RIAA spent five years suing music fans, the labels have seen a steady decrease in CD sales. Perhaps all those lawsuits only reminded consumers that there was plenty of illegal music still free for the taking on the Net.