Can music bosses catch the pirates?

“They cannot know that both clocks are the same,” said Richard Clayton, a traceability expert at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. “The assumption is that both the third parties and the ISPs are keeping their clocks accurate. If there’s a discrepancy in clock timings, it could lead to a misidentification.”

Copyright and file-sharing monitoring companies such as Logistep claim their systems are accurate, with checks in place to avoid such errors. “Every ten minutes, two different time servers check, and there’s a log book to check for any difference between the atomic clock and our clocks,” said Logistep’s chairman Richard Schneider. “If there was a difference of more than 0.5 seconds then the data wouldn’t be relevant,” he admitted.

If I committed something on my PC, unless someone saw me, then how do we know it wasn’t the cleaner?

But whether the legal authorities themselves are so meticulous is another matter, and there’s concern that the area is poorly policed. “Very frequently, the cops get the time and date wrong, so ISPs dig out the wrong IP addresses from their logs,” claims Cambridge’s Anderson. “Lots of stuff goes wrong when it comes to traceability.”

What to do

So what can the music industry do to track down file-sharers – without harassing innocent broadband subscribers?

“We could look at the system, and the hard drive and see what’s been deleted, what’s been shared,” said computer forensics expert Paul Sanderson. “Saying you had the file on the system might not be enough to get a prosecution. But having the file and the software of a P2P service would probably be enough.”

“Having the software and having a file in one of the shared folders may indicate that you may have downloaded the file or that you may have made one of your own files available for sharing,” he said. “In addition, there may be evidence from other computers or ISPs to show that it’s either been uploaded to or downloaded from the computer under investigation,” he said.


However, in order to apply such forensics, the rights holders would need to convince a judge such a search of the user’s computer was warranted. “If the music industry rights holders really wanted to, they could get a court order to get your computer, but it would be very expensive,” said Pinsent Masons’ Surguy.

“The police do it in fraud and criminal cases, but would it be worth the effort for each user? It’s all about cost-benefit, and it really would be an expensive route.”

According to Surguy, even if there was evidence of files on a computer,
the accused could claim someone else had used their PC: “If I committed something on my PC, unless someone saw me, then how do we know it wasn’t the cleaner?”

Piracy by the numbers

£3.9 billion – Total 2009 revenues for the UK music industry, according to figures published by recording industry rights body PRS for Music.

1.2 million – Number of jobs that could be lost across the European entertainment sector by 2015 as a result of unlawful sharing, says commerce group BASCAP.

80% – Percentage of youngsters surveyed by TalkTalk who say they’ll seek alternative sources of pirated music if the Digital Economy Act hits file-sharing networks.

80% – Percentage of Spotify users who tell the company they have downloaded less pirated music since signing up for the streaming service.

£636,758 – Total settlements collected by ACS Law after it sent out threatening letters to consumers, according to company emails leaked after a hacking attack.

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