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RIAA Apologizes For Accusing Penn State Of Copyright Violation

RIAA Apologizes For Accusing Penn State Of Copyright Violation

by , 2:00 PM EDT, May 13th, 2003 has published an article reporting that the Recording Industry Association of America sent a letter of apology to Penn State University after wrongly accusing the school of violating copyright on music by Usher. The mistake was made thanks to an automated program that searches the Internet for offending files, according to the story. That program reportedly found a files named Usher.mp3, thus triggering the warning letter sent to Penn State.

The RIAA has been concerned lately about file sharing, particularly on college campuses. However, this was not a case of students trading music. Instead, they were unrelated files on the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics Web site, some of which were related to a Professor Usher. From the article:

Last Thursday, the RIAA sent a stiff copyright warning to Penn State's department of astronomy and astrophysics. Department officials at first were puzzled, because the notification invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and alleged that one of its FTP sites was unlawfully distributing songs by the musician Usher. The letter demanded that the department "remove the site" and delete the infringing sound files.

But no such files existed on the server, which is used by faculty and graduate students to publish research and grant proposals. Matt Soccio, the department's system administrator, said that he searched the FTP server "for files ending in mp3, wma, ogg, wav, mov, mpg, etc., and found nothing that would precipitate this complaint."


In an e-mail sent after a query from CNET, the RIAA said a temporary employee had caused the notice to be sent. "We have withdrawn, and apologize for, the DMCA notice that had been sent to Penn State University in error. In order to safeguard against errors like this one, we have individuals look at each and every notice we send out. In this particular instance, a temp employee made a mistake and did not follow RIAA's established protocol, and we regret any inconvenience this may have caused. We are currently reviewing any other notices this temp may have sent."

In short, the program concluded that Usher was a reference to the musician and presumed the MP3 files were pirated music.

The Mac Observer Spin:

The RIAA has been quite vocal about the alleged negative effects of file-sharing on their sales. It has been widely reported that the recording industry is placing dummy songs on file-sharing services, presumably to make it harder to find music and to discourage would-be pirates. Some CDs are also being produced in a way that makes them un-rippable and unplayable on computers, and even unplayable in some audio CD players.

While we understand the RIAA's desire to defend copyrights, it's unfortunate that they have resorted to such measures. Luckily, Apple's new iTunes Music Store offers Mac (and later, Windows) users an inexpensive way of legally downloading music. It remains to be seen how successful the service will be in the long run, and how it will affect the RIAA's campaign of alienating its customers in the short term.

It also seems pertinent to note that this situation at Penn State demonstrates that file sharing networks do have legit uses. We do not condone piracy, but that does not mean all file sharing is bad. The ironic thing is that 20-30 years in the future, it is likely that file sharing will still be here, while we aren't so sure the same is true with the recording industry, at least as it exists today.

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