Michael Piatek, Tadayoshi Kohno and Arvind Krishnamurthy are probably the only people on this planet that are happy when they receive DMCA take-down notices. The trio has been analyzing the process of copyright enforcement on P2P networks, and in turn have become targets of enforcement agents themselves.

The twist: They never up- or downloaded a single copyrighted work as part of their research. Instead, they just framed various devices on their own network - and in turn received take-down notices for printers and wireless routers. This was possible due to the fact that at least some of the online monitoring companies apparently don't actually download content to verify that a user is sharing a certain file, but just look at the data delivered by Bittorrent trackers, which can be easily manipulated. From the researchers' website:

"To draw on a real-world analogy, consider the ride-share bulletin boards common on many university campuses. People post requests for and offers of rides to various locations and contact information. Suppose a monitoring agency wanted to keep track of anyone who shared a ride from Seattle to Portland. One method would be to simply take a picture of the bulletin board each day, noting the names of people that requested a ride to Portland. The problem with this approach is that anyone can post to the bullet board claiming to be anyone else; there is no way to know if the person named in the request actually made that request unless that person is directly observed getting in the car."

The researchers also suggest that users don't actually have to fall victim of an intentional attack. Instead, just using a dynamic IP address on a Wifi network that has been registered with a Bittorrent tracker can be enough to get in trouble. The trio believes that Universities and ISPs should be more aware of the questionable nature of the data that DMCA notices are based on:

"The fact that we can generate DMCA complaints for arbitrary users regardless of whether or not copyright infringement actually occurred casts doubt on the current approach to copyright enforcement on P2P networks. As a result, Internet users and ISPs should not interpret DMCA complaints as foolproof; false positives are a very real possibility. Going forward, we believe our work shows a compelling need for increased transparency in the P2P monitoring and enforcement process."

You can read the complete study here.

(via NYT Bits Blog)
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