I just downloaded the entire Barry Manilow MP3 Collection using my favorite file-sharing network. These networks are anonymous, right? The record companies can’t possibly find out who I am, right?
Wrong and wrong. Some of your fellow file swappers aren’t really file swappers—they’re firms like Ranger Online that are employed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to catch file-sharing scofflaws. Exactly how these companies operate is a trade secret, but essentially they log onto peer-to-peer networks like Kazaa or Gnutella, initiate downloads, and record the IP addresses of computers containing large numbers of illegally copied songs. The RIAA’s crack legal team then sends a letter to the Internet Service Providers who control these IP addresses, demanding the ISPs identify the swappers using them. Under the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), ISPs that cooperate with this request can’t be prosecuted for violating copyright laws. Among the recipients of an RIAA subpoena were a 12-year-old honors student in New York City and an 83-year-old grandmother in West Virginia who’d been dead for a month.