In denying content piracy charge, RIAA steals worst excuses from every episode of 'Cops'

Those IP addresses aren't mine; I don't know how they got in my pocket!

TorrentFreak continues to mine news from the screaming irony beat as the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA)'s apologists spread out to spin the week-old news that RIAA members appear to have downloaded enough copyright-violating copies of popular TV shows to qualify for $9 million worth of fines.

On Saturday, TorrentFreak published the results of a little old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism: A group of its writers took blocks of IP addresses assigned to some of the more vocal, more extreme supporters of the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and other efforts to punish illegal downloaders to a degree far out of proportion to their offense.

TorrentFreak writers compared the list to data collected by YouHaveDownloaded.com, which houses a database of more than 120,000 torrents and lists of the IP addresses that sent requests to down load them.

Quelle surprise: six IP addresses at RIAA turned up on the list of those who had downloaded files illegally.

The six were linked to download requests for songs by Jay-Z, Kanye West and the first five seasons of "Dexter" as well as one episode of "Law and Order SVU."

As far as the RIAA was concerned, that should have been the end of the investigation. In the past, if you assume the RIAA's public statements and efforts to prosecute or sue accused downloaders reflects its actual opinion, an IP address and a person are the same thing.

IP addresses were the primary evidence RIAA used to pin accusations of digital piracy on a whole host of inappropriate targets, as well as those who actually were involved in illegal downloads (the number of which is so large RIAA could have simply grabbed anyone older than 14 at any local mall and had as good a chance at nabbing a pirate as it did trying to trace them through the Internet.

Until RIAA shifted its tactics to focus on "pirates" who post large volumes of illegal content, its main effort was to relentlessly pursue every individual "pirate" it could identify by IP address, even if the number of apparently downloads was in the single digits.

In one case it got a $1.5 million judgment against a Minnesota mother of four for allegedly downloading 24 songs.

A jury later lowered the amount to $54,000. However, under U.S. law, copyright owners can demand as much as $150,000 for each copy of a copyrighted work a pirate downloads.

RIAA was so single-minded in its pursuit that, more than once it actually chased a "culprit" until death drew down that curtain through which none may pass and live.

In at least one case the RIAA kept chasing an alleged software pirate – an 83-year-old grandmother who refused to have a computer in the house – even after death, all on the evidence of an IP address that had been connected with a download request.

It eventually dropped the tactic because it was alienating its own customers by trying to have them arrested.

Those IP addresses aren't mine; I don't know how they got in my pocket

So, when the RIAA itself is accused, you would expect it to stand up and admit the obvious. And it did, indeed stand up to speak in its own defense.

Except, it didn't talk to TorrentFreak, which broke the story.

RIAA talked to CNET, a perfectly decent news organization with a much broader audience than TorrentFreak, and which seemed an odd choice only because it wasn't the one that found the evidence and leveled the charges against RIAA. Well, it didn't talk. It had a PR person email back and forth with a reporter at CNET rather than actually facing anyone.

So CNET reported what the RIAA had said, citing TorrentFreak as the source of the accusation and the evidence showing IP addresses listed in the American Registry for Internet Numbers Whois database as being assigned to RIAA, and those same addresses linked to a specific set of illegal downloads.

Except, the RIAA now says the IP addresses do not belong to it.

"This is inaccurate," RIAA spokesperson Jonathan Lamy said of the TorrentFreak report. "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."

Apparently, according to Lamy, the IP addresses supplied by TorrentFreak were not complete IP addresses. They were partials (but only if the RIAA's IP addresses are much longer than everyone else's).

The "partial" IP addresses were used by a third-party vendor that was trying to make RIAA look bad, Lamy told CNET.

"Those partial IP addresses are similar to block addresses assigned to RIAA. However, those addresses are used by a third party vendor to serve up our public Web site," Lamy's email said. "As I said earlier, they are not used by RIAA staff to access the Internet."

Except…

  • The IP addresses were the same length that all IP addresses are, and none of the digits was unclear.
  • The IP addresses were clearly assigned to and active at RIAA, not being used from a different geographic location.
  • The IP addresses were never assigned to a third-party vendor and there's no evidence someone else was downloading content using spoofed RIAA IP addresses to try to make it look bad.
  • If someone were doing that, they would almost certainly have downloaded more than two songs, five seasons of "Dexter" and one episode of "Law and Order."

Do these inconsistencies make a difference to RIAA?

No. It continues to deny the connection to both the downloads and the IP addresses.

Fortunately, using such a weak, transparent, technically infeasible excuse won't hurt the RIAA much.

After making itself into the Internet's evil clown with its monomaniacal pursuit of every two-bit illegal download, the RIAA's anti-piracy crew doesn't have a lot of credibility left to lose.

Even TorrentFreak – so obviously unqualified a journalistic source that the RIAA won't even speak to it after being hoist by its own petard (with evidence documenting both hoist and petard) – sounds more disappointed at the dissembling of a weasel than angry at the hypocrisy of inquisitors who don't like having victims put the question to them instead of the other way around.

Considering the RIAA’s past of suing tens of thousands of file-sharers for copyright infringement, the excuse is perhaps even more embarrassing than taking full responsibility. When some of the 20,000 plus people who were sued by the RIAA over the years used the “someone else did it” excuse this was shrugged off by the music group’s lawyers. Can these people have their money back now? We doubt it. – TorrentFreak, Dec. 21, 2011

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