The Recording Industry Association of America sent out more than
two dozen letters on Monday apologizing for incorrectly targeting
institutions suspected of posting copywritten music on their
servers. The RIAA said the erroneous notices were the result of an
error by an unnamed temporary employee.
One of the undue warnings arrived last Thursday at Penn State
University, accusing professors of illegally posting songs by
R&B singer Usher on a university-hosted FTP site. It turns out
that the RIAA’s automated Web crawlers had mistakenly zeroed in on
and linked an MP3 of an a cappella song by a group of astronomers
about the Swift gamma ray satellite and papers posted by an
astrophysics professor emeritus named Peter Usher.
“When this matter was brought to our attention, we immediately
began an examination of other notices this particular temp.
employee reviewed,” read a statement from RIAA spokesperson
Jonathan Lamy. “If we have found errors, we immediately contacted
the appropriate person and withdrew the notice.”
Though the errors pointed out how easily automated programs can
be fooled by random combinations of seemingly copyright-infringing
words (in this case, “MP3” and “Usher”), the RIAA maintains that of
the thousands of notices it has sent out over the past five years,
these latest errors were the first of their kind.
The raft of apologies were the first admissions by the RIAA of
mistaken copyright violation notifications. Citing privacy issues,
Lamy would not name the other individuals or institutions that
received error notices.
Penn Sate spokesperson Tysen Kendig said the university has
accepted the RIAA’s apology and will continue to work with the
organization to combat the illicit trading of copyrighted material.
Penn State President Graham Spanier testified before Congress on
online piracy issues in February and, along with RIAA president
Cary Sherman, is co-chair of the Joint Committee of the Higher
Education and Entertainment Communities, which is examining ways to
reduce peer-to-peer network abuse on campuses.
As for Professor Usher, Lamy says that for his trouble the RIAA
intends to send him an Usher CD and T-shirt.