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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The RIAA Responds Lamely to Claims of Piracy Advocates

Posted By on Tue, Dec 20, 2011 at 10:15 AM

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TorrentFreak, a news site that basically supports illicit downloading, last week used a half-assed ISP-lookup service to conclude that employees of both the Recording Industry Association of America and the Department of Homeland Security had downloaded illicit copies of various copyrighted works, including episodes of the Showtime series Dexter, and songs by Jay-Z and Kanye West. The site had earlier made similar charges against several big media companies.

These accusations are far from solid. TorrentFreak, as its name implies, essentially promotes and defends piracy. The editor goes by "Ernesto." If Ernesto hadn't found any evidence that didn't support his thesis, he wouldn't have written anything. It wouldn't have fit his agenda. And any evidence that he does find, he's going to play up for all it's worth, even if it's worth next to nothing.

The lookup site Ernesto used, YouHaveDownloaded, is even sketchier. The Russia-based site is full of wackiness, like the bio of its main tech dude, Ruslan K., who says: "Ruslan has a vision and I'm ready to bet $100,000 against a candy that he'll be on the very top of the Internet mountain in 5 years." And the site's main man, Suren Ter, responded in the site's comments section to criticism of its accuracy by asserting: "The site is just for show."


It's impossible to tell how accurate the site is, but all available

information points to: Not very. For one thing, the site doesn't account

for the use of dynamic IP addresses, which get assigned within a block

to various users at various times. Any given address could easily have

been used by some kid in a Georgetown dorm room and then been

assigned to the RIAA's Washington, D.C. offices. And the RIAA says that

while it has been assigned some of the IP addresses within the range

reported by YouHaveDownloaded it used those addresses for publishing its website, not for Internet access. YouHaveDownloaded apparently doesn't

make such distinctions.

Dismissing Ernesto's claims should have been easy, and yet the RIAA, as

is its wont, nevertheless made itself look completely stupid in its

response. Spokesman Jonathan Lamy told Cnet's Elinor Mills:

"We checked the block of IP addresses allocated to RIAA staff to access

the Internet and no RIAA employee was responsible for this alleged use

of BitTorrent."

This response was in an e-mail, and despite the cluelessness of the

overall message, it is carefully worded -- a nondenial denial. Note the

phrase "This alleged use." He doesn't assert that no employee

has ever used BitTorrent or downloaded an illicit file. Maybe Ernesto's

findings were way off, and yet at the same time half the RIAA's staffers

were loading their disk drives with Who's The Boss reruns and The

Best of Scritti Politti (the RIAA seems stuck in the '80s).

Lamy's response would allow for that possibility.

Further, implied in the statement is the fact that the RIAA isn't

particularly careful about what its staffers might be doing with their

computers. The best answer Lamy could have given -- if only it had been

true -- would have been: "It's impossible that our employees downloaded

illicit material because we don't allow them free access to file-sharing

software." It's not like it's hard to deny such access, or at least to

monitor networks to make sure the software isn't there.

Actually, the best answer would have been: "Look, we know people

illegally download copyrighted material. We have humans working for us,

and a good number of humans do this. That's the problem we're trying to

address. Doubtless, some of our employees, being humans, have downloaded

copyrighted material, just like the employees of any other organization

have."

But the RIAA, the Motion Picture Association of America -- and all the

other media companies and lobbyists that sue their own customers or try

to pass insane laws like the proposed Stop Online Privacy Act -- don't

see piracy as the inevitable outcome of a digitally connected world, a

technological and economic problem that needs to be addressed soberly

and responsibly. They see it as a war, with them on the side of

righteousness and everybody who has ever downloaded a song on the side

of evil -- as a dirty criminal. To them, a kid who downloaded a handful of songs

is just as bad as The Pirate Bay, a piracy site that is amoral to the point

of sociopathy (and which, unlike the downloading kid, makes money from

piracy.)

Thanks to their own public behavior and statements, for the

media companies to admit that some employees might have downloaded

something would be tantamount to admitting that they had child molesters

working for them.

This is the rhetorical corner into which the media industry has painted

itself. It can't respond to possibly nutty allegations with anything

like intellectual honesty, because it chose years ago to address the

piracy problem with nothing but dishonesty.

The Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, hasn't yet addressed the

allegations. But it uses government computer networks -- which are

usually poorly managed and full of holes -- so there's probably all

kinds of horrible stuff on its employees' drives. In any case, though,

the "hypocrisy" charge can't really be applied here, even if Ernesto's

allegations are 100 percent accurate. DHS must enforce the law, whether

the law is crazy or not.

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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Dan Mitchell

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