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RIAA Information Operations?
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2001 03:11:25 -0500 (CDT)
By John Borland
Special to ZDNet
October 16, 2001
The copyright infringement battle takes a new turn. The recording
industry is now experimenting with new technology it hopes can smother
online song swapping by targeting music traders' computers directly.
The recording industry is experimenting with new technology it hopes
can smother online song swapping by targeting music traders' computers
The record, movie and software industries have long pursued a
controversial campaign that identifies people trading large numbers of
songs though services such as MusicCity, OpenNap or Gnutella. Once the
people are identified, the groups attempt to persuade Internet service
providers (ISPs) to shut down those individuals' Internet connections.
But copyright holders, including record labels, are now experimenting
with new ways to cut down on copyright infringement. As described by
sources at the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), one
method uses software to masquerade as a file-swapper online. Once the
software has found a computer offering a certain song, it attempts to
block other potential traders from downloading the song.
Already a potentially contentious plan, the recording industry
inadvertently sparked a further wave of criticism last week with plans
to protect its strategy from being undermined by a pending
RIAA lobbyists sought a provision to the bill that would shield
copyright holders for any damage done to computers in the pursuit of
copyright protection--a goal that critics charged was too broad and
might even give the group the ability to spread viruses in the pursuit
"We referred to it as the 'license to virus,'" said one congressional
staffer. "It would have given them the incentive to employ lots of
hackers trying to figure out how to stop (MusicCity), Morpheus or
An RIAA spokesman said the group was simply trying to protect its
existing tools, not expand them.
"We have a legitimate concern that the measure currently being debated
could unintentionally take away a remedy currently available to us
under law that helps us combat piracy," said RIAA spokesman Jano
The direct approach
Copyright holders have been struggling for years to put the brakes on
accelerating online piracy of music, movies and software, now centered
in peer-to-peer services that have replaced Napster. Lawsuits filed
against Napster, Scour, Aimster, MusicCity, Kazaa and Grokster have
shut down some of these file-swapping gathering points, but the
practice remains as popular as ever.
This is the first evidence of a technological campaign by copyright
holders that would mount a direct technological counter strike on the
The new strategy would take advantage of file-swapping networks' own
weaknesses, amplifying them to the point where download services
appear even more clogged and slow to function than they are today.
Because most peer-to-peer services are unregulated, the quality of
connections and speed of downloads already varies wildly based on time
of day and geographic location.
The software technology, according to industry sources, would
essentially act as a downloader, repeatedly requesting the same file
and downloading it very slowly, essentially preventing others from
accessing the file. While stopping short of a full denial-of-service
attack, the method could substantially clog the target computer's
Record labels hope to make the point that subscription services such
as MusicNet or Pressplay, which will launch on Yahoo, America Online,
MSN and RealNetworks by year's end, will not be subject to the same
doubtful quality of service.
It's unclear yet how much time and money any record label or industry
group is willing to devote to the project. Given the huge number of
file-swappers online, using this kind of direct-action technique
against even a small percentage of song-traders could quickly soak up
technical and financial resources.
Appetite for more?
According to industry sources, the technology is being provided by
outside technology companies and has not yet found its way into wide
use. But the Washington battle indicates that the industry is willing
to protect its ability to use its own technological tools against its
A copy of the legislation proposed by the RIAA last week would appear
to have given the group broad latitude to attack file-swappers'
computers without suffering any civil liability.
No civil liability would result from "any impairment of the
availability of data, a program, a system or information, resulting
from measures taken by an owner of copyright," the proposed text read.
That language never made it into the antiterrorism bill, however.
Several legislators of both parties objected, and the RIAA's text was
dropped. Industry lobbyists are pursuing a different tack that they
say would still allow them to pursue the current technological plan,
The new technological techniques, which would essentially hog a
file-traders' Net connection so that genuine song-seekers couldn't get
in, are expected to be taken up across the copyright holder community.
A representative for the Motion Picture Association of America, which
has also aggressively pursued online pirates, declined to comment on
that organization's plans.
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- RIAA Information Operations? InfoSec News (Oct 17)