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How The RIAA Tracks File Sharing at Colleges

The anonymous RIAA employee gave a private demonstration to The Chronicle on how it catches music pirates. The RIAA currently contracts Media Sentry, a company hired to do the majority of the dirty work. A list of songs with distribution rights that fall under the RIAA’s umbrella is provided to Media Sentry, which is then scripted for searches in LimeWire, as an example. The searches typically turn up hundreds of matches per song, and each hit is looked into individually.

At this point the host PC is searched via the software for any other suspected music that has been infringed. Media Sentry uses special software that checks for unique digital fingerprints in each of the offered files to match and verify with the copyrighted songs provided by the RIAA. If the digital fingerprints do not match, sound waves of each song are analyzed. If the company still does not have an identical match a live person will listen to the song as a last resort. Once a match has occurred investigators will engage in a TCP connection, known as an electronic “handshake”, with the host PC to verify if the host PC is online.

Once the dirty work as been done, the RIAA will send out letters containing names of files, date and time of when investigators found the files available. The letter will ask colleges to remove all infringing content from their networks.

According to the RIAA employee, on occasions the RIAA will send out “prelitigation settlement letters” to the alleged pirates demanding thousands of dollars as an alternative of going to court. If this happens, as a courtesy act, the RIAA will download the music first and verify the music is being infringed. On the bright side, the RIAA apparently does not single out any particular college campus.

Interestingly enough, a different method is used for alleged pirates on commercial ISPs, like AT&T. Most of the investigation done for commercial pirates is manually driven.

Earlier this month, a district court judge overturned the RIAA’s argument of “making available” as copyright infringement.