How do they do it?
Such information is likely to be of immense value to the thousands of other individuals who have been sued by the RIAA over the past three years in its aggressive campaign against alleged copyright infringers. All of the cases have involved the RIAA providing Internet Service Providers and universities with a list of IP addresses on their networks which the organization claims were associated with illegal file sharing activities. It then demands that the institution turn over the identities of the individuals to whom the IP addresses were assigned. The individuals are then sued by the RIAA, typically on the assumption that he or she is responsible for all activity occurring with that IP address. In one such case last year, a US jury assessed damages of US$222,000 against an individual named Jammie Thomas for using the Kazaa network to illegally download and distribute a total of 24 songs.
So far, the RIAA has managed to resist increasingly emphatic calls from those sued to reveal how exactly Media Sentry gathers the evidence of alleged copyright infringement. Some have charged the US-based Media Sentry with carrying out private investigations for the RIAA without being licensed to conduct private investigation, as is required in almost every US state. Others have said that Media Sentry's evidence usually only points to the existence of music files on computers and do not show how the files were originally obtained or whether the files were actually illegally shared thereafter. Concerns have also been raised about the possibility that Media Sentry might itself have illegally accessed and uploaded private confidential information not related to copyright infringement as part of its investigations.
One case that has highlighted such issues involves Arista Records and 17 students at the University of Oregon. That state's Attorney General in November filed an appeal in the US District Court in Oregon calling for an immediate probe of the evidence presented by the RIAA when it subpoenaed the identities of the 17 students. In a 15-page brief, Oregon's assistant attorney general, Katherine Von Ter Stegge, questioned the tactics used by the RIAA's investigators in gathering evidence against those suspected of illegal file-sharing.