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Recording Industry Drops MP3 Spies

The Recording Industry Association of America has dumped the company charged with gathering evidence for use against people accused of illegally sharing copyrighted music, according to a report Sunday in The Wall Street Journal.

As part of its controversial antipiracy strategy, the RIAA had enlisted MediaSentry to search the Internet for evidence of people sharing large amounts of music. The trade group's campaign on behalf of the world's largest recording labels reportedly resulted in lawsuits against about 35,000 people.

However, MediaSentry was often criticized for its gathering techniques, often characterized as invasive and excessive.

Earlier this year, visited the RIAA offices and got a demonstration of how MediaSentry hunted down file sharers. MediaSentry wrote scripts to automatically hunt for the names of copyright songs and locate the IP addresses of computers sharing files.

MediaSentry checked the hashes (identifying marks) on the song files to make sure they matched the copyright song. If the marks didn't match, the company used software from Audible Magic to compare sound waves.

MediaSentry would then forward the information to the RIAA.

However, MediaSentry only checked to see which songs were being offered; it had no way to check who was downloading them. So, instead the RIAA argued that making a file available is copyright infringement. But that strategy was dealt a blow in April when a federal judge rejected the RIAA's "making available" argument in a lawsuit against a husband and wife accused of copyright infringement.

Last month, the RIAA announced that it no longer plans to file lawsuits against people it suspects of pirating digital music files. Instead, the RIAA has reached agreements with unidentified Internet service providers to "reduce the service," to chronic file-sharers. Exactly what a reduction of service may include isn't specified, but a source close to the situation said that none of the ISPs have agreed to limit a user's bandwidth, a practice known as throttling.

The RIAA said it would replace MusicSentry with DtecNet Software ApS -- a Copenhagen-based company the trade group has worked with before, according to the newspaper.

By Steven Musil

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