The Methods That Target DMCA Violators Are Flawed

When we read stories like Tanya Andersen’s and consider the countless others who have been wrongfully targeted by trade groups like the RIAA, it becomes evident that the system by which DMCA takedown notices are issued is very far from perfect. For the uninitiated, DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notices are official statements which assert that an artist’s or company’s intellectual rights have been violated (i.e. copyright infringement) and often threaten legal action against an individual. In a study conducted by the University of Washington, researchers proved that this system is seriously flawed, according to the New York Times. In one experiment, the team received takedown notices from the MPAA which accused 3 laserjet printers of downloading the latest Indiana Jones movie and Iron Man. More, inside…

The main problem with the system, researchers contend, is that enforcement agencies are only looking at IP addresses of those participating on peer-to-peer networks and don’t focus on the actual files being transferred. The article says,

In two separate studies in August 2007 and May of this year, the researchers set out to examine who was participating in BitTorrent file-sharing networks and what they were sharing. The researchers introduced software agents into these networks to monitor their traffic. Even though those software agents did not download any files, the researchers say they received more than 400 take-down requests accusing them of participating in the downloads.

The research team, including Michael Piatek a graduate student, says these takedown notices should be viewed with some skepticism. He says, “Because current enforcement techniques are weak, it is possible that anyone, regardless of sharing content or using BitTorrent, could get a D.M.C.A. takedown notice claiming they were committing copyright infringement.”

Mr. Kohno, an assistant professor at the university said, “Our study scientifically shows that flaws exists.” He adds, “It’s impossible to prove that other flaws don’t exist, especially since current industry practices are so shrouded in mystery. Ultimately, we think that our results should provide a wake-up call for more openness on the parts of content enforcers.”

We hope that these kinds of studies help to bring about changes in the way that DMCA takedown notices are issued. Copyright infringement lawsuits have turned into big business for trade groups but they continually fail to consider the innocent victims which are being snagged in their massive net. To accuse someone of a crime is serious business, it is only fair that the method by which they are accused be just as serious.

The Inexact Science Behind D.M.C.A. Takedown Notices [New York Times]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Skankingmike says:

    i think copyrights are flawed. I think the music and movie industries are flawed.

    Maybe if they worked better people wouldn’t pirate!

    They tell me I can buy their CD’s and that would be great but i still don’t own the rights to that CD and i can’t do what i want to it. SO why buy the damn CD? some people don’t even like you to make MP3’s out of the CD and if you dl’ed Mp3’s you can’t do anything with them due to DRM.

    If all red tape was cut and music song dl’s were the pennies they should be then they’d be in the right direction.

    hell Trent from NIN proved you don’t need to make money off the sales of the CD’s anyway and many other artists are coming to this conclusion as most artists make pennies per CD sale anyway.

  2. Ein2015 says:

    RIAA = evil. There are thousands of documents explaining why.

  3. InThrees says:

    Exactly. All the propaganda about ‘stealing from the artists’ is exactly that – propaganda. It’s the record company that stands to lose the most, since they’re the ones who more than likely stole from the artist in the first place.

    It would be more realistic if the anti-downloading literature read more like “Don’t steal music we already stole! We stole it first!”

  4. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    My printer loves Star Wars, actually. It’s the strangest thing. In addition to downloading every fan movie out there, sometimes it likes to put the little Empire logo on some of my documents. It’s really quite cute, if not taxing on my internet connection.

    Clearly those printers are Indiana Jones fanatics.

  5. Bladefist says:

    The DMCA is a huge piece of shit. They made mod chips illegal. It’s illegal to mod because it COULD give you the ability to pirate video games. Totally ignore the fact that some people mod to turn xbox’s into web servers, install Linux, media center applications. I cannot take my console, which I purchased, and solder a chip into it. Kiss my ass.

  6. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    I wonder how long this will last after falsely accused people start suing for false prosecution. Maybe a class action suit?

  7. Trai_Dep says:

    More to the point, and worth pulling from the article, how many people were erroneously sued and blackmailed into settling, who weren’t even violating IP?
    Jeezus, I hope class-action lawyers are reading this article. It would do SO much, both immediately and to force transparency.

  8. Trai_Dep says:

    @speedwell: Jinx!

  9. HalOfBorg says:

    Like someone said on another board once:
    “We’re not pirates – we’re ARCHIVISTS.”

    The people who SELL shared files/DVD/whatever – THOSE are the pirates.

    If there were no backups for the media lost during that studio fire recently…..guess where they would have had to turn??

  10. LorneReams says:

    Considering that DMCA takedown notices are supposed to be signed under pains of perjury…I’m thinking the “wake-up call” mentioned in the article should be some pain. Just start you know, actually enforcing the law, and the problem with solve itself.

  11. The RIAA should DIAF.

  12. Parting says:

    I guess will have to blame the printer :)

  13. This story is several weeks old.

  14. rjgnyc says:

    DMCA is foolish but so are the people who claim that they have a right to freely distribute anything that they purchased one copy of electronically.

    The main issue is that things jumped a little bit beyond the casual friend to friend mixtape. In the past people were limited to copying things in a limited run. It at least _cost_ something to give something away for free. Even the [cheap] price of a blank CD or, to timewarp even further, cassette tape was some kind of buffer that kept person A from giving a copy of something to more than friend B, C, and D. Now that the distributor has no real financial requirement to give something away for free, people feel even less restricted to do so.

    So, at that point, sharing shit with friends by making copies of the source item became an issue.

    Is DMCA a horribly flawed system that goes about everything the wrong way? Yep. But let’s not act like it’s unfair for companies to protect their financial investments by not letting people distribute what _they_ produce.

    Just because someone isn’t making money doesn’t mean it isn’t a financial risk. If I mirrored Consumerist on another website, I would be told to stop doing so because it draws hits (and thus advertising) away from Consumerist. The financial damage for them is still present even though I make no financial gain from it.

  15. Angryrider says:

    Those laser printers shouldn’t have to take this sitting down! They should sue.

  16. mike says:

    What I hate about the RIAA is that they are very sue happy. But what I hate more than the RIAA are people who hate the RIAA simply by making money.

    The argument that I often hear is, “They have too much money” as if that justifies priacy.

    It doesn’t it. If you download music, you are a thief. There’s no way around it. You are taking something that other people have to pay for. You increase prices for everyone else so that you can say how much the RIAA sucks for sueing people for sharing music.

    Some (not all) of the lawsuits are completely justified. The RIAA has done an horrible job suing random people without checking all the facts. But that doesn’t make downloading illegally okay.

    I don’t mean to go on a rant but this is the worst kind of hypocracy I see. The same people who argue that illegal sharing is okay are the same people who will fight tooth-and-nail if I steal something from them.

  17. ScottCh says:

    I don’t even want to cast a wiff of defending the RIAA (evil, evil creatures) but it is definitely possible to hack a network printer and use its hard drive for nefarious purposes. Exhibit A: []

    So if your network printers are vulnerable to cracking and are visible to the intarweb, it’s possible that they could be hacked and exploited to cover up illegal activity. Either that, or… The MPAA is just as hilariously off-target as they’ve been several times in the past.

  18. Trai_Dep says:

    Printers watching Terminator?!
    Oh gods, people – now they know about Skynet. Skynet!!

  19. PinkBox says:

    Oh no! I have TWO laser printers hooked up to my computer. If I had only known…

  20. mac-phisto says:

    @linus: that’s a fair statement, but i challenge that targeting downloaders is not sending the right message (nor solving the real problem).

    last weekend, i was in brooklyn, in a bar & 4 separate people came in selling stacks of bootleg dvd’s. & i’m not talking “torrented & burned on my hp” bootlegs. i’m talking professional manufacturing here – glossy covers, original disc art, shrinkwrap package. $5.

    these are the people truly affecting sales & they’re backed by large international crime rings. but they’re not the easy targets that home p2p users have become. the important part i took out of this study is that the researchers never shared any file, but still received notices merely for being active on p2p sites.

    p2p is not a crime. & until copyright holders can prove it is, they should be combating the real thieves – criminal rings that manufacture ripoffs.

  21. differcult says:

    Just remember who started this whole thing….democrats

  22. Bladefist says:

    @differcult: Debatable. Actually Both Parties are almost equally responsible for this. The senate gave it unanimous consent.

    But since everyone blames Bush for everything, It’s only fair that I point out:

    Signed into law by President Clinton on October 28, 1998


  23. RandomZero says:

    The really important bit to take away from this – the printers got takedown notices because they spoofed IP addresses, and no checking was done. This does provide a valid defense in court for anybody they catch in that takedown net.

  24. differcult says:

    I actully knew it was unaimous…BUT…I had the same idea you did.

  25. rjgnyc says:

    @differcult: I agree. These Obama/Hilary mixtapes will be the death of us all.

  26. Crymson_77 says:

    @RandomZero: The problem is, the burden of proof should be on the RIAA to bring the case in the first place. Not the defendant.

  27. MayorBee says:


    If you download music, you are a thief. There’s no way around it. You are taking something that other people have to pay for. You increase prices for everyone else so that you can say how much the RIAA sucks for sueing people for sharing music.

    Actually, if you read the article, or even the snippet here, no one is saying anyone’s stealing anything. They’re talking about copyright infringement which, although it is illegal, is not the same thing as stealing.

    If I come to your house and steal your vehicle, I have deprived you of your ability to use that vehicle. If I come to your work and copy trade secrets, I have not prevented you from using those trade secrets.

    Similarly, if I go into FYE and take a CD, I have prevented that store from selling that CD and deprived them of property. However, if I download that CD illegally, I have not prevented the store, the RIAA, or the recording studio from selling the CD that’s still sitting in the store.

    You might say “well, you’re not going to buy the CD now” to which I respond “it wasn’t worth buying in the first place because it’s overpriced”. The reason music is overpriced is because the RIAA has not changed their business plan with the times to support new technology and digital media. They have changed their business plan to one of earning money by filing lawsuits. This is their main purpose now.

  28. WiglyWorm must cease and decist says:

    what the RIAA is described as doing actually sounds illegal to me, but IANAL

  29. SacraBos says:

    Okay, there are supposed to be penalties for a company to file a false DCMA takedown notice. The only penalty is perjury, and that’s if they are NOT authorized by the copyright holder. The only problem, is that there is no entity that pursues those perjury charges. If they are claiming a printer is sharing a file, and they are they authorized copyright holder – unless they have actually downloaded the song from that printer, and listened to it, and confirmed the contents, they are committing perjury. But how does a regular Joe get them taking to court for filing false documents?

  30. RedSonSuperDave says:

    To be fair, I actually first watched Iron Man on my laser printer. The printer swore that it was not a pirated copy, and like a complete sucker, I believed it.

  31. Orv says:

    @MayorBee: If you copy trade secrets, you may not have prevented me from using them, but you have greatly diminished their value.

  32. Jesse says:

    Anything to make sure Metallica can afford those gold plated shark tanks, right?

  33. mike says:

    @mac-phisto: Oh, I completely agree!! There is nothing wrong with file sharing! In fact, I highly support it to cut down on centeralized bandwidth. I use bittorrent to download ubuntu and linux kernels and the like.

    But there is something definately wrong with file sharing illegal files.

    @MayorBee: I actually did read the article and the study when it came out. My comment was more directed at people who think the RIAA is evil for simply protecting their interests.

    In reply to this:

    The reason music is overpriced is because the RIAA has not changed their business plan with the times to support new technology and digital media. They have changed their business plan to one of earning money by filing lawsuits. This is their main purpose now.

    I can’t say whether that the RIAA is getting more money by filing lawsuits, but regardless, it still does not defend people who download music and other copyrighted media illegally.

  34. mike says:


    Actually, if you read the article, or even the snippet here, no one is saying anyone’s stealing anything. They’re talking about copyright infringement which, although it is illegal, is not the same thing as stealing.

    While you’re legally right, the average person doesn’t download a song illegally and say, “Oh, I’m not stealing; it’s only copyright infringement.” If your not paying for music that has been copyrighted, it might as well be considered stealing, since you’re not paying for it.

  35. mike says:

    Don’t get me wrong, though. I find it hillarious that the RIAA is sending letters to laser printers. Just goes to show how stupid the RIAA really is.

    I’ll stop posting now…

  36. Orv says:

    @linus: I think what you’re trying to get at is that while the RIAA’s enforcement efforts are wrong-headed, the concept of copyright is still an important and useful one.

  37. Corydon says:

    @Skankingmike: They tell me I can buy their CD’s and that would be great but i still don’t own the rights to that CD and i can’t do what i want to it. SO why buy the damn CD? some people don’t even like you to make MP3’s out of the CD and if you dl’ed Mp3’s you can’t do anything with them due to DRM.

    Actually, CDs are still my favorite format for buying music.

    1) No DRM (at least not on the stuff I like). After the Sony rootkit fiasco, I don’t think anyone else has tried to do this. So I can move my music freely from my home computer to my laptop to my work computer to my mp3 player.

    2) Instant archive. After I rip a new CD, I throw it into storage with all the rest and don’t touch it again unless I need it for some reason.

    @MayorBee: I agree that calling illegal copying and distribution of music and movies “theft” is problematic. I also don’t like the term “piracy” for similar reasons. So I typically refer to it as “illegal copying”.

    However, one argument that I never see addressed in these discussions is the ability of a creative person to have control over their creation. Some artists want their music to reach as wide an audience as possible. But others may not care about having a big audience.

    What illegal copying does is strip the artist of that control. You may argue that they should welcome the wider distribution that illegal copying brings them, but it’s not your decision to make.

    The other issue is one of compensation for work. This is less problematic for music, where artists are starting to use recordings as marketing material for concerts (which is where the artists have always made more of their money).

    It’s more of a problem for movies. If everyone downloads the movie for free, how do you pay the writers, actors, directors, extras, caterers, technical people, etc? I suppose you can sell the “experience” in the movie theater, but that’s a dubious experience at best these days.

  38. SacraBos says:

    Wow, almost like slashdot today. Look, the copyright thing isn’t really the issue here. But yeah, F the MPAA/RIAA. The point is that the methods they use to target “infringers” is obviously flawed, which immediately calls into question the “good faith” nature of their lawsuits against people. If they can file a takedown against a printer(!), then just how good is the evidence when they file against a person? This is the point, you can be sued due to faulty (and likely unlicensed) “detective” work, and it’s cheaper to settle than pay a lawyer, go through discovery, and such.

  39. Tmoney02 says:


    The funny thing is that the RIAA argues in court papers that it is illegal to copy CDs onto your computer or make mp3’s for your Ipod even though its all for your own personal use.

    But ignoring that I too think the cd is usually the best way to go, and i usually can get used cds pretty cheap.

  40. MayorBee says:

    @Orv: @linus: @Corydon: I’m not saying copyright infringement is not illegal, I’m just saying it’s not the same thing as theft. You’re right, Linus, most people don’t make a large distinction between the two, but there is a difference. I don’t condone either one, and I don’t think that out-and-out theft is a lesser or a greater crime than copyright infringement, but they are two different crimes.

    The RIAA could possibly save its image and make money if it embraced the digital means of distribution, stopped with the lawsuits, and charged less money for music. Yes, they would have to concede to a lower profit margin, but they would more than make up for it in sales. There is absolutely no sense in being able to purchase a 15 track CD in a store for 12.99 or being able to download that music at .99 a track (14.85). The overhead is lower, the materials cost is lower, and using the internet for distribution is vastly superior than using a B&M means of distribution.

    Again, I reiterate, I think copyright infringement is wrong, I think theft is wrong, but I know that they’re two separate crimes. Maybe to some it’s semantics, but in the eyes of the law there is a large difference.

  41. Razorgirl says:

    I used to let my printer download anything it wanted to. I started to see evidence of more widespread web-surfing though, and had to put my foot down when it started reading the Chronicles of George ( [] ) and changing the spelling on my documents. No more interwebs for you, LaserJet!

  42. drjayphd says:

    @differcult: Republican majority in Congress, and the problem isn’t Democrats, it’s politicians beholden to entertainment lobbyists. Thanks for playing.

  43. ShadowFalls says:

    @LorneReams: @SacraBos:

    That is the problem, no one pursues those charges against companies, but they sure and hell will when an individual does it.

  44. ORPat says:

    And all this time I thought it was the cat’s turning my laser printer on. Turns out it’s downloading and watching movies. Stupid thing won’t even share. Well, we can fix that. HAH! I just pulled your USB.

  45. Geekybiker says:

    Mod chips are generally legal. However the bios on them is the issue. Its typically a modified OEM bios which is illegal. Which is why most mod chips are sold without a bios. You could potentially write a black box Open source version of the bios and have a perfectly legal bios though.

  46. donkeyjote says:

    @Bladefist: No, it’s illegal to mod because you have to access copyrighted firmware to mod.

  47. donkeyjote says:

    @ORPat: Two words. IP-over-USB

  48. axiomatic says:

    I just don’t buy the RIAA product anymore. I’m going on about 7-8ish years now. I stopped buying around the original Napster issue.

    If a musical artist wants me to have their product, they can leave the RIAA and then I will buy.

    All I buy now is independent label stuff or local musicians CD’s sold at their local concert.

    Music is fun again without the hassle of the RIAA.

  49. drjayphd says:

    @donkeyjote: You can’t see it, but Edge just glanced at his fellow wrestlers in the balcony and held up three fingers. (fifty thousand points to whoever gets the reference)

  50. Tejas says:

    @drjayphd: “Matt Freakin Hardy”

  51. krztov says:

    people who say songs should cost pennies are fucking retards. would any of these people want to get paid pennies for when they go to work everyday? while yes, trent reznor and coldplay can get away with these new digital distribution/pay what you want methods, any smaller band would suffer horrendously, id hate to think of making pennies off the album i’ve put so many hours into to finish. with smaller bands we’re lucky if we break even, most of us are happy to break even, i know i am.

    im so sick of everyone wanting something for nothing. pennies.. pffft

  52. krztov says:

    edit:, that was mainly towards first commenter, skankingmike

  53. krztov says:

    crap, hit post again by accident.. but i meant to add that if songs were “pennies” artists would get less than a penny, for reference a friend of mine on an independent label gets i think 20 cents per song sold through itunes where each song costs 99c on average, thats shit.

  54. krztov says:

    great, comments are gone, but to summarize, skankingmike and people like him dont realize that songs SHOULDNT cost pennies, none of us want to go to our fulltime job for pennies, why would a musician? only reason trent reznor/coldplay/etc can get away with this stuff is because of their already high popularity level, on an independent scale, it would fail horribly.

  55. davidlward says:


    I’m a composer. I write music and lyrics. I do, however have a composing partner and he contributes changes in music and style. Having said that, I’d be happy getting a penny everytime someone listened to it on youtube or myspace never underestimate the power of millions of hits at a penny a piece. Sure I worked oh say…10 hours to produce a song start to finish. BTW, I have a studio.. The point being made here is the RIAA is obsolete! When artist like Prince and Stephen King can release to the web and directly make money the future is written in stone. However, krztov have a nice life living in the past.

  56. mac-phisto says:

    @krztov: dude, if you’re in it for the money, you’re in it for all the wrong reasons. i get your point about pennies, but have you ever heard the term “starving artist“?

    artists aren’t supposed to get stupid rich & live knee-deep in blow & hookers b/c then they lose an integral part of their talent – perspective. & (generally speaking, of course) this is exactly when bands start to suck it up big time.

    & consider that your friend gets 20¢ on a 99¢ song – 20% of retail – does he see anything close to that on physical CD sales? i doubt it (unless he’s burning them himself). also, consider that he’s widened his market from his local venues to billions of listeners worldwide with ZERO manufacturing cost. not too shabby considering most record contracts front a lump sum & artists are lucky to see any money whatsoever from sales until they meet some unrealistic, constantly changing sales quota. this is how labels & the riaa thrive – racketeering & loan sharking. they’re nothing but

    i think this sums up my thoughts on that nicely:

  57. mikelotus says:

    @InThrees: that is some rationalization there. guess delusions are the only way to make ourselves feel better.

    I guess the industry screwed up thinking people would want a higher quality listening experience instead of mp3s on their computer or other mobile devices. Personally, I would rather listen to Monica Goodling speak than mp3s on a computer or whatever device.

    Sit in parking lots of businesses that offer free wireless when they are closed at night — download your brains out, big win.

  58. krztov says:

    @mac-phisto: @mac-phisto: mustve not noticed the whole part where i said itd be nice to break even, gear costs money, as does time.

  59. InThrees says:

    @mikelotus: “Rationalization” implies I’m trying to justify a habit or practice of mine, and that’s not the case here. There is a lot of literature available detailing how the major labels essentially hold artists in thrall, how a song or album that sells millions of copies might not even make a car payment for the artist(s) in question.

    The business model is broken and outdated and I have no sympathy for their stopgap attempts to go back in time.

    This is lamp oil vs incandescent bulbs, pure and simple. Off the top of my head I can think of a few ways the labels could turn this around and actually profit off broadband, but they’re too mired in the past to do it.

    And no, I don’t mean “the days of wine and honey” profit, those days are probably gone… but adapt or be bowled over.