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Content industry demands universities pay attention

The content industry is stepping up efforts to root out piracy on college networks, and a new report shows exactly how.

As it turns out, the actual methods used to detect pirates aren’t very sophisticated. The RIAA gives a list of files to watch for to its hired watchdog Media Sentry, who then searches for infringing materials on common peer-to-peer networks, such as Limewire. Media Sentry sometimes runs the same client as most of the networks’ users, using the network client’s built-in facilities to harvest users’ IP addresses and browse their shares.

As reported earlier this month, a number of universities reported a tenfold increase in the quantity of DMCA copyright notices they received. At the time, the only thing that college administrators and observers could do was guess as to the RIAA and MPAA’s motives, as content industry spokespersons remained silent.

Since then, RIAA president Cary Sherman broke the silence last week in an interview with Inside Higher Ed, attributing the increase to a “phenomenal jump” in Media Sentry’s computing efficiency.

“It’s the same procedures, the same standards, the same list of copyrighted works that we’re using,” said Sherman. “The Internet is a huge place, and there are millions of people connected to it … The amount of resources you put into sending out requests for specific files makes a difference; the more requests you make, the more you’re going to find.”

“We don’t think there’s any more infringement going on,” Sherman added. “We just think there’s more detection of infringement.”

Published Tuesday, The Chronicle of Higher Education detailed an invitation it received to personally observe the enforcers at Media Sentry in action: an RIAA representative (who wishes to remain anonymous due to concerns over hate mail) demonstrated the firm’s methods for searching for infringing files over Limewire.  The actual methods are now considerably automated, matching Sherman’s previous statements: Media Sentry searches for songs in its list with a script, which returns a list of results. With results in hand, the script harvests each entry’s IP address and confirms the authenticity of the file in question, then proceeds to search that user’s shared folder for more.

It’s important to note that in most cases, Media Sentry investigators “do not usually download suspect music files.” Instead, they will try to hash the file remotely; if a hash comparison fails, investigators will download the file and attempt to verify its contents using Audible Magic, a program that specializes in recognizing an audio file’s sonic characteristics. Investigator will only hear a file in only two cases: if the fails both the preceding checks, or if he or she is gathering evidence for litigation.

Regarding the letters themselves, the RIAA says that a full-time RIAA employee reviews each pre-litigation letter for legitimacy, as well as to confirm that the targets lives in the United States.

Despite the necessary human review, however, the RIAA’s search-and-identify process is still largely automated, and it can tag hundreds of users a day.

While the RIAA admits that it has shifted its focus to universities in general, it says doesn’t single out particular schools, contrary to the claims of a number of university network administrators. Further, the RIAA only uses the automated process it demonstrated to the Chronicle against universities -- the automated takedown program is “solely university-focused,” said the unnamed RIAA representative. “We're trying to make universities aware that they have an issue with peer-to-peer file sharing on their network, and so we don't send automated notices to commercial ISP's, I think because they are generally aware that there's a problem.

 “We have no capability of targeting any school at all … technically we can't do it. We find what we find with this process, and that's what we send to schools.”

RIAA representative Cara Duckworth acknowledged the process has its shortcomings: investigators have no way of knowing if someone else actually downloaded a song, and its process is only effective against targeting users that offer a particular file for download.

Investigators don’t seem to be phased by recent changes in legal precedent. With Atlantic v. Howell’s determination that making a file available for download does not infringe a copyright owner’s distribution rights, it is unclear if and how the RIAA’s investigation techniques have changed.

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RE: I wonder how...
By encryptkeeper on 5/15/2008 9:26:23 AM , Rating: 0
Maybe if new music/movies were worth paying for, people would pay for them.

RE: I wonder how...
By VashHT on 5/15/2008 10:47:56 AM , Rating: 2
That's a pretty canned response, most people download both old and new music/movies indiscriminately, and if they hate newer music/movies they won't even dl them for free.

RE: I wonder how...
By PitViper007 on 5/15/2008 10:50:34 AM , Rating: 5
I hate to join the crowd that does this, but I'm really getting tired of the comment that generally states, the music/movies are crap, so I'm not gonna pay for them, I'll just D/L them. If it's crap, why do you want them? If you want them, then PAY for them. Simple as that.


RE: I wonder how...
By JasonMick on 5/15/2008 2:05:47 PM , Rating: 4
I agree with your logic. However, I see the whole P2P architecture as a viable vehicle for many to "test-drive" bands, movies etc. I have a MASSIVE legally purchased music collection probably close to 1500 cds, and I have to say a lot of the bands I listen to I downloaded first. I think your argument is true, if you like it, and you can buy it, you should buy it. But some random band/independent film, how will you know if its good or not? P2P provides a very viable means of finding out.

I think there's nothing morally wrong with downloading music/media with the intent of buying it if you like it. Perhaps legal there is, but morally no, and financially no, as you're supporting worthy artists.

Now as far as straight-up piracy I can sort of understand more the argument from some poor college student who doesn't have money to legally buy music. I'm not saying its right, but its certainly less wrong than a person with a professional job downloading music with no intention of eventually buy it.

However I think the RIAA and tools like DRM are also inherently corrupt because they hurt the legitimate customer, and incidentally target young people and uninvolved parties.

RE: I wonder how...
By TSS on 5/15/2008 9:10:21 PM , Rating: 1
i agree on the legal spring board for young musicians, but we all know that's a small part of the P2P data. i've seen enough torrent sites to say for sure that 90% or more on any given torrent site would classify as illegal.

however i kind of disagree with "if you like something you should buy it". it's not that sentance that i have a problem with, it's the "you shouldn't play/use/watch it if you didn't pay for it" that follows.

where not talking about stealing, where talking copyright infringement. it costs money to make that product but in essence, once R&D, development and production costs are earned back the profit just comes falling out of thin air.

for instance how would you feel about pirating windows XP? it's succesor has long since been released, they definitly earned back every single penny they used to make it and a healthy number ontop of that. it's at the end of it's lifespan (or getting very close). we already have technology (Direct x10 for instance) that surpasses the capability of windows XP, and as such will not run under it (officially). and it still costs me 220 bucks if i wanted to get it today.

so i hand over 220 bucks and this dude gives me a package which you know costs just 10 bucks to make at most. didn't cost anything at all to get the right 0's and 1's on that single CD. if you take the blalant ripping-off people which it is and compare it to copyright infringement, i seriously cannot tell you which one is more morally wrong.

go walk into your local toystore. find the games rack, look for Nintendo DS games. you will find atleast a number of 20+ "care for x animal" games. all 40 bucks or more, the only thing different is 1 or 2 models. seriously i have a kid sister who has a stack of 5 maybe 6 games like this and i really can't tell the difference aside from a different coloured puppy. but it's a frickin different colour puppy so she wants to spend her money on it. or games based on movies, anybody here played the PC version of cars? 50 bucks for a top resolution of 640 by 480?

where i draw the line is if somebody else offers me the same software for money only a lower amount. i pay everything or nothing at all. it's either worth it or not. when it is, i'll pay whatever the original owner asks me for it even when it's made out of thin air. however, simply saying "just buy everything for the price they ask for it" in this day and age is the same as saying "please kind sir would you rip me off and may i suck your bawls while you do it"

i still think monty python still expressed it best. "no no no you're supposed to *haggle*".

RE: I wonder how...
By JustTom on 5/16/2008 1:14:15 AM , Rating: 2
But some random band/independent film, how will you know if its good or not?

Anyone with the ability to illegally download music should be able to find legal outlets to listen to independent music. A simple google search would suffice.

RE: I wonder how...
By EglsFly on 5/15/2008 9:31:38 PM , Rating: 2
Problem is music is OVERPRICED.
A movie company can spend over $100 Million on production of a movie, and you can buy it on DVD for the same price as a music CD.

RE: I wonder how...
By bodar on 5/15/2008 11:03:54 PM , Rating: 2
Aww, come on. I bet the record companies spend close to that bribing radio networks to play their product every half-hour. Or is all radio finally owned by one company and they get a volume discount?

Man, was I excited when I found out the stock stereo in my car came with an auxiliary-in jack built into the face.

RE: I wonder how...
By mindless1 on 5/15/2008 9:58:28 PM , Rating: 2
So if you don't like people expressing a very common attitude, if it makes you tired, they have no right to express it anymore? That's pathetic and wrong.

We see this attitude mirrored in everyday life. People will watch OTA or free offerings on their cable or satellite system instead of pay per view, renting a DVD or going to a theater.

IF the particular offering were reasonably available at a fair price, there would tend to be people with the disposible income who would pay to watch as an immediate download - IF they valued it.

Value is always perception when something isn't a life necessity. You perceive they must value something more than they do. I'm not justifying their actions, but IMO your attitude is more wrong than theirs and yet you have one luxury in that the law is on your side - it's not illegal to whine about something.

RE: I wonder how...
By PitViper007 on 5/16/2008 10:03:08 AM , Rating: 2
Hey, if it's free, have at it!! I'm not at all saying that if the owner doesn't charge for their product you HAVE to pay something. What I am saying is that you don't go downloading something that you would normally have to pay for, then give the excuse "oh it's crap anyway, so I don't have to pay for it." That's a BAD rationalization at best.

"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs
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