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)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.