Printer wanted for illegal downloading

by Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

The media industry trade group practice of sending cease-and-desist letters over alleged copyright infringements to users on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks are flawed and can lead to false positives, according to U.S. researchers.

Researchers at the University of Washington looked at the practice of sending "takedown notices" to internet service providers and universities when their users are spied on file-sharing networks.

The notices are often the first step employed by industry groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to get alleged file-sharers to stop downloading or sharing their music, movies or software, the researchers said. Further letters threatening legal action can then follow these notices.

But the researchers found in one study that the method used to determine who receives a notice is too broad, essentially targeting IP addresses of those on a peer-to-peer file sharing network, regardless of whether they are engaging in any downloading or sharing of content.

Assistant professor Tadayashi Kohno, Arvind Krishnamurthy, a research assistant professor and Michael Piatek, a graduate student, then set up a second experiment in May 2008 to see if they could intentionally implicate another user simply by altering the IP information a peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol like BitTorrent receives.

As they told the New York Times, the researchers were able to use the method to implicate a desktop printer, which was sent a DMCA notice for downloading Iron Man and the Indiana Jones movie.

Because current enforcement techniques are weak, it is possible that anyone, regardless of sharing content or using BitTorrent, could get a DMCA takedown notice claiming they were committing copyright infringement,” said Mr. Piatek.

For many people in IT or engaged in P2P file-sharing, this is probably not news, but the study's authors argue for clearer guidelines and increased transparency "in the monitoring and enforcement process for all P2P networks."

The findings could be of interest here in Canada, particularly since consumer advocacy groups and others have suggested that the federal government is thinking of adopting an approach to digital copyright similar to the DMCA.