How The RIAA Targets College File Sharers

May 14th, 2008 | By | Category: Digital Music

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an off-the-record explanation from an RIAA official on how they identify colleges and universities to target:

The official explained that one way the RIAA identifies pirates is by using LimeWire, a popular peer-to-peer file-sharing program that is free online and used by many college students (there is also a more-robust version of the program sold for a small fee).

Here’s how the process works: The RIAA maintains a list of songs whose distribution rights are owned by the RIAA’s member organizations. It has given that list to Media Sentry, a company it hired to search for online pirates. That company runs copies of the LimeWire program and performs searches for those copyrighted song titles, one by one, to see if any are being offered by people whose computers are connected to the LimeWire network. For popular songs, the search can turn up dozens, if not hundreds, of hits. A search on Madonna’s latest release, “4 Minutes,” turned up more than a hundred users trading various copies of the song.

The LimeWire software allows users who right-click on any song entry and choose “browse host” to see all of the songs that a given file sharer is offering to others for download. The software also lists the IP address of active file sharers. (An IP address is a unique number, assigned by Internet-service providers, that identifies every connection to the Internet.) While the names of the people associated with particular IP addresses are not public, it is easy to find out which IP addresses are registered to each Internet-service provider. Using public, online databases (such as those at or, Media Sentry locates the name of the Internet-service provider and determines which traders are located at colleges or universities.

There’s nothing especially surprising about this scenario, except possibly how unsophisticated it is.

The RIAA’s tactic of targeting colleges & universities is likely to continue as long as students use file-sharing software; it’s may be time for colleges & universities to fight back.

They could do this by promoting free and legal music downloads from artists like Nine Inch Nails that offer their music with Creative Commons Licenses, or by making students aware of the thousands of free music podcasts that are available.

What do you think? Should colleges just pay the RIAA to go away, should they install filters on their network, or should they try something new – educating students about legal free music?

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One Response to “How The RIAA Targets College File Sharers”

  1. Steve Mullen says:

    You missed an option there at the end — Should the RIAA devise a simple, inexpensive, and non-limiting way to sell music online?

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