Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How The RIAA Catches Campus Music Pirates

The Chronicle of Higher Education, one of the most respected academic publications, published an interesting piece yesterday titled How It Does It: The RIAA Explains How It Catches Alleged Music Pirates. In the piece, Catherine Rampell interviews an unnamed Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) representative who describes how the association tracks and catches alleged campus music pirates. Here's a step by step summary of the process as listed in the Chronicle piece:

Step 1: The RIAA maintains a list of songs whose distribution rights are owned by the RIAA's member organizations. It has given that list to Media Sentry, a company it hired to search for online pirates.

Step 2: Media Sentry runs copies of the LimeWire program and performs searches for those copyrighted song titles, one by one, to see if any are being offered by people whose computers are connected to the LimeWire network.

- If you have ever run Limewire and done searches on popular music titles, you know a simple search typically gives hundreds of "hits".

Step 3: The Limewire search listing allows the searcher to manually right-click on any song entry and choose "browse host" to see all of the songs that a given file sharer is offering to others for download.

Step 4: The listing also allows the searcher to see the IP address of the listed file sharers.

So, by doing a simple Limewire search, Media Sentry gets a list of all songs being shared by a user at a specific IP address. Here's how the rest of the process works:

Step 5: Media Sentry uses online databases like or to find out which IP addresses are registered to each Internet-service provider.

Step 6: Using this information, Media Sentry determines which traders are located at colleges or universities.

Step 7: Media Sentry compares digital fingerprints, called hashes, of know copyright song files and those being shared.

- This can be done by Media Sentry without actually downloading the suspected song, it can be done using only a TCP/IP "handshake".

- It is possible to change the hash and in cases where this is suspected, Media Sentry will actually download the song and use Audible Magic software to compare sound waves of the offered audio file against those of the song it may be infringing upon.

Step 7: Media Sentry forwards this information to the RIAA.

The process is so simple it's even something I could do! The advantage companies like Media Sentry provide is automation and speed - fast servers and custom applications can scan large numbers of Limewire traders automatically. How does the RIAA typically continue?

Step 8: A full-time RIAA employee reviews each case to make sure the claim is legitimate and that the alleged pirate is in the United States. If this is the case, the RIAA delivers a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice, asking the college to remove infringing content from its network.

According to the Chronicle's RIAA source, Media Sentry does not perform these kinds of automated investigations on traders associated with commercial ISP's (like Verizon or Comcast) - all notices received by commercial Internet-service providers are processed manually by the RIAA.

Be sure to read the entire Chronicle piece linked here.

No comments: