RIAA Outsources Fingering of Students Who Share Music Illegally

The RIAA is outsourcing the hunt for music thieves. Its largest target currently is those who operate from within colleges and universities, a move that has piqued the attention of Educause.

A representative from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) demonstrated to The Chronicle of Higher Education how the organization catches students sharing copyrighted music. The process involves the use of LimeWire, a peer-to-peer file-sharing program that boasts "The Fastest File Sharing Program on the Planet," on its Web site.

As the article explained, the RIAA has a database of the songs owned by its member organizations. It has outsourced the job of running LimeWire and researching who is offering songs through the network to MediaSentry, a firm that does online content protection and promotion services for companies in the entertainment and software industries,

Through public, online databases, MediaSentry compares the IP addresses of people who are sharing files to those that belong to colleges and universities. According to reporting by The Chronicle, MediaSentry has automated much of the mundane research with "scripting software that types in the songs, grabs the IP addresses, checks them, and forwards the information to the RIAA."

As part of the process, the company sends a request to the college involved, asking it to remove the suspect content. This "takedown notice" program is "solely university-focused," The Chronicle reported.

In major breaches, the RIAA also may send out "prelitigation settlement letters" to individuals, in which it requests monetary settlements in lieu of taking them to court.

To prove that a breach has happened, MediaSentry establishes that a copyright has been infringed through the use of software that checks for the existence of a "digital fingerprint" on each suspect file to confirm that it matches up with the fingerprint on a file in the RIAA database. When a match isn't made, MediaSentry downloads the song and uses a program from Audible Magic to compare the sounds waves of the audio file being offered against the one it knows is copyrighted. If that doesn't result in a match, a human being listens to the song.

In a notice posted this week on one of its listservs, Educause VP Mark Luker acknowledged that his organization was investigating a "recent spike" in notifications sent by RIAA to schools. Part of the increase, he wrote, has to do with changes to the mechanism used by RIAA to detect the presence of infringing files. According to Educause, "notices are frequently triggered by the presence in a 'shared folder' of a file whose distribution from that shared folder would be unauthorized, rather than by observation of an actual unauthorized transmission of such a file." In other words, MediaSentry is going after people and schools for having copyrighted files in a shared folder, whether or not that file has actually ever been shared.

Luker concluded, "The number of DMCA notices received by any campus thus cannot be meaningfully correlated with the amount of actual infringement taking place on the campus network. For this reason, Educause believes that counting DMCA notices is a completely inappropriate measure of success in combating infringement and an equally inappropriate basis for comparing the amount of infringement taking place campus-to-campus or year-to-year."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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