Britney, Madonna, P. Diddy make anti-piracy ads. They join dozens of other stars in an industry campaign to discourage file-swapping

”Would you go into a CD store and steal a CD?” Britney Spears asks, making an analogy to unauthorized Internet downloading of music files. ”It’s the same thing, people going into the computers and loggin’ on and stealing our music.” Spears, Madonna, and dozens of other artists are making such statements in a new industry-sponsored ad campaign aimed at discouraging online music piracy.

The multimillion-dollar campaign will include TV spots featuring Spears, Nelly, Missy Elliott and others speaking out against illicit file-swapping. The campaign also includes print ads headlined, ”Who Really Cares About Illegal Downloading?” Answer: a list of 89 artists, including Spears, Madonna, P. Diddy, Eminem, the Dixie Chicks, Shakira, Nelly, Elliott, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Sting, Nas, Luciano Pavarotti, Diana Krall, and Sheryl Crow. The full-page ads began appearing Thursday in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Congressional newspaper Roll Call, and other papers.

It’s not clear how effective a campaign will be that advertises in papers not known for their readership among young music listeners, or that includes statement by millionaires like Sean ”P. Diddy” Combs, saying ”Put yourself in our shoes!” Nonetheless, the industry considers piracy a serious threat, blaming it for the 5 percent drop in CD sales in 2001 and the 7 percent drop in the first half of 2002.

Thursday also marks the start of Congressional hearings on Internet piracy. The House is expected to explore efforts by the major labels to provide legal, paid downloads, efforts which have been criticized not only for failing to provide a cheap and easy-to-use alternative to piracy, but also for possible antitrust violations that make it difficult for independent labels to compete online.