Internet file swappers worried about being sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) can now find out whether the industry association has their number - their IP (Internet Protocol) number, that is.
A new Web-based tool provided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) gives file swappers the ability to check their home IP address or file sharing service user name against a list of addresses and names disclosed in hundreds of subpoena filed by the RIAA to ISPs (Internet service providers). (See http://www.eff.org/IP/P2P/riaasubpoenas/)
The tool consists of a Web page with a field into which visitors can type a user name from file sharing services such as Kazaa and Grokster, or the IP address of a system used to swap files.
That page is linked to a database containing file swapper information culled from RIAA subpoenas, according to Fred von Lohmann, senior intellectual property attorney at the EFF.
Visitors who enter a name or address that is on the list receive a link to an electronic copy of the actual subpoena, he said.
The new tool is a way to give file sharers who are being targeted a head start on challenging the subpoenas, von Lohmann said.
Those whose names are not in the list receive "peace of mind" that they are not being pursued, the EFF said.
An RIAA spokesman said that the new tool was curious, especially in the face of the EFF's past efforts to champion online privacy protections.
Instead of creating problems for the RIAA, however, the EFF tool underscored the group's core message, the RIAA spokesman said.
"Its further confirmation of what we have argued all along - you are far from anonymous if you are illegally 'sharing' music on a peer-to-peer network," the spokesman said.
Because of delays in processing the large volume of subpoenas being issued by the RIAA, there is a lag between the number of subpoenas submitted by the RIAA and the number disclosed to the public and in the EFF database, von Lohmann said.
The EFF said that the RIAA has subpoenaed ISPs for information on almost 1000 file swappers so far, but only around 300 were accessible to the public, he said.
In addition, the RIAA was adding new subpoenas each day, meaning that file swappers should take only small comfort if their user name or IP address did not match those in the database, von Lohmann said.
In June, the RIAA said that it was beginning to gather evidence for use in what it said would be "thousands of lawsuits" against individual music swappers.
At the time, the group said that it would use software that can scan peer-to-peer networks to gather evidence that would be used as the basis for the lawsuits.
While it is too early to discern a pattern in the RIAA's subpoenas, they typically name between five and ten copyrighted songs that the group owned and that were not authorised for online distribution, von Lohmann said.
Users who were hosting files rather than downloading them were the target, and the RIAA may be going after so-called "supernodes" on peer-to-peer networks like Kazaa, he said.
Supernodes are machines that act as the backbone of p-to-p networks with expendable bandwidth and processing power as well as consistent records of being online.
An RIAA spokesman declined to comment on the group's tactics in targeting file swappers, but said that it was targeting users who were offering or sharing a "substantial number of copyrighted music files".
Under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, copyright holders such as the RIAA can issue subpoenas directly to enforce their copyrights on the Internet.
Before the DMCA, only courts could issue subpoenas and strict conditions had to be met before a subpoena was issued. Now, in contrast, the RIAA only has to submit a two-page letter stating its "good faith belief" that its copyright was being violated to subpoena identifying information about an individual.
No other evidence or proof of harm was required, von Lohmann said.
In June, Verizon Internet Services turned over the names of four alleged music downloaders after an appeals court denied the company's request for a stay while it challenged the music industry's right to subpoena the names.
The RIAA said that ISPs were "responding," but declined to comment on whether additional names had been turned over in response to the latest subpoenas.
The group will file "several hundred lawsuits" in late August or early September using information gathered from P-to-P networks and through the subpoenas, the RIAA spokesman said.
However, that would just be the first wave of lawsuits. Information gathering for future suits would continue even while legal action was ongoing, he said.
"We're going to continue to file lawsuits until the message gets across that this is illegal activity," the spokesman said.
In addition to the search tool, the EFF has also set up a Web site along with the US Internet Industry Association and other organisations, www.subpoenadefense.org, for individuals who need information on how to defend themselves from prosecution.
The EFF recommends that people who are worried about being targeted by the RIAA stop hosting files for uploading on P-to-P networks.
Those who knew they were being pursued should contact an attorney to discuss their options, von Lohmann said.