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BitTorrent downloads linked to RIAA, DHS IP addresses

RIAA disputes report of BitTorrent downloads from trade group IP addresses, but TorrentFreak shows they appear on downloading tracker search site.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
3 min read
One of the IP addresses at the RIAA allegedly downloaded this Kanye West music.
One of the IP addresses at the RIAA allegedly downloaded this Kanye West music. YouHaveDownloaded.com

The TorrentFreak blog has outed the RIAA and U.S. Department of Homeland Security as harboring downloaders of pirated songs by hip hop artists and crime-based TV shows, but the RIAA denies it.

TorrentFreak said it used the YouHaveDownloaded.com site to find instances of IP addresses within the RIAA and the DHS linked to downloads of copyrighted content from BitTorrent.

Six RIAA IP addresses were linked to downloads of music by Jay-Z ("American Gangster") and Kanye West ("My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"), as well as the first five seasons of "Dexter," a "Law and Order SVU" episode and tools for converting audio and tagging MP3 files, according to TorrentFreak.

But RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy disputed the report. "This is inaccurate," he said in a statement provided to CNET via e-mail. "We checked the block of IP addresses allocated to RIAA staff to access the Internet and no RIAA employee was responsible for this alleged use of bittorrent."

Asked for comment on that, the TorrentFreak blogger who posted the item, who goes by the alias "Ernesto," told CNET that he stands by the report and provided CNET with six IP addresses that were within the range of IP addresses listed for RIAA on the American Registry for Internet Numbers Whois site. They all came up with material that had been downloaded when a search is conducted on YouHaveDownloaded.com.

Lamy had an explanation for that that implies that a third-party vendor was responsible for the downloads. "Those partial IP addresses are similar to block addresses assigned to RIAA. However, those addresses are used by a third party vendor to serve up our public Web site," he said. "As I said earlier, they are not used by RIAA staff to access the Internet."

TorrentFreak also said it found more than 900 unique IP addresses at DHS that were used to download copyrighted files from BitTorrent. It did not give examples of the types of content allegedly downloaded by the DHS, which is involved in fighting piracy by seizing pirate domain names.

DHS representatives asked CNET to send a request for comment via e-mail and had not provided comment by late in the day.

The RIAA has been aggressive in its pursuit, and punishment, of people who download pirated content. One of the 26,000 defendants named in RIAA lawsuits is a Minnesota mother of four accused of downloading 24 songs illegally. She was tagged with a $1.5 million judgment by a jury, which was later lowered to $54,000. Under U.S. law, backed by the RIAA, copyright owners can seek $150,000 in damages for each instance of a copyrighted work being illegally downloaded.

If official records can be wrong as the RIAA claims, then this would mean they probably accused people wrongfully also," said Ernesto.

YouHaveDownloaded.com representatives, meanwhile, said that despite the joking nature of the "about" and "privacy" pages of the site, it is legitimate. "The data is real," Suren Ter of the Russia-based site wrote in an e-mail to CNET. "A lot of people admit that we have their data correct. It's statistically impossible without the real data."

Ter acknowledged that there could be false positives on the site, but said the possibility of a mistake is "quite low." Last week, TorrentFreak used the YouHaveDownloaded.com site to find downloads of BitTorrent content associated with IP addresses assigned to Sony Pictures, NBC Universal and Fox Entertainment. And the residential palace of French President Nicholas Sarkozy--a strong proponent of anti-piracy legislation - was also linked to BitTorrent downloads last week.

Updated Dec. 20 at 8:25 a.m. PT to clarify that the U.S. law sets a maximum of $150,000 in damages for downloading each instance of a copyrighted work.