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To catch a Music Pirate

Biswajit.HD

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A moose-like figure draped in a Christmas outfit greets guests at the front door of a single-family home near Osnabrück, in the north-west of Germany. Someone has obviously forgotten to put away the decoration; the holidays got over a few weeks ago. It is likely that a music pirate lives behind the door—one who has uploaded 980 MP3s for download on the BearShare peer-to-peer network. “Violation of the Copyright Act in 980 cases” is written on the search warrant. This warrant is carried by the two Kripo (criminal police) officers who have just driven up. They are here to find the PC that has the pirated goods, the tool of the crime. The officers ring the bell to investigate further.

The police have brought with them the highly able Frank Lungen. Lungen knows every file sharing network inside and out. This is not because he uses them, but because he fights against them. He does this job with an almost obsessive passion. Last year, Lüngen participated in 138 house searches, traveled 80,000 kilometers through Germany in his car, and had to sleep in a hotel every fourth night. His experience even tells him what a computer that has been used for illegal file sharing looks like. This is something that the police are not too aware of, and is where they lack in experience. “Computers are not their cup of tea and they’re overworked. They give me a call and then it goes faster.” says Lüngen.

A man in his mid fifties opens the door. He greets the police with a friendly hello. He knows one of the Kripo officers from his local fishing association—that is how it is in rural areas. His son must be responsible for these charges, assumes the confused father, when he is told why the police are at his door. He calls his wife who is a lawyer. The 16-year-old accused is in school at this time. The father asks the son to call him, and he does so from his cell phone in two minutes. The accused reveals his password and allows the expert to quickly search through his PC. Other than that, the boy does not say anything—it’s better for him if he doesn’t. His mother will take care of that later, being a legal expert.

Lüngen actually finds a few music files on the PC which to his surprise are bought legally. He doesn’t find any file sharing tools. The accused seems to be completely clean. Lüngen enquires whether there is another computer in the house. The daughter’s notebook is full of music—with the top 100 titles sorted folder-wise. These are typical of suspicious shared files. However, file sharing software is missing even on the laptop. No BearShare, no LimeWire, no eMule, no BitTorrent client. The father adds that his son often arranges LAN parties. Maybe one of his friends has a file sharing network running? That’s probable, but assumptions do not help Lüngen, who needs solid proof. The PCs stay with their owners and Lüngen leaves empty handed. “Doesn’t matter, you should be able to lose sometimes.”

Lüngen is not used to losing anyway. He confiscated three computers the previous day, and one more the same morning. A man had uploaded more than 1,000 MP3s on LimeWire. When the police stood in his living room, he got weak in the knees. He of course knew that he had done something illegal but what astonished him even more was how the police traced him down.

Suspicious clues
Lüngen is a head investigator with proMedia, an agency which was formed four years ago by the anti-piracy department of the German organization that represents the interests of the phonographic industry. On behalf of many German music companies, proMedia tracks file-sharing network users. When Lüngen listens to the office answering machine in the morning, he finds many threats left by people he has incriminated. “Lüngen, I’ll screw you. And I’ll screw Rasch as well.”

Clemens Rasch is a lawyer, and Lüngen’s partner. Together, they form Germany’s most successful pirate hunters, or at least the most active. Ten years ago, they were fighting against the original file sharing network Napster and its German imitators. They took down the servers from the network but for each server that was shut down, two new ones emerged.

For three years, Rasch and Lüngen have been suing file sharing network users directly. They recorded the first 68 cases on 25,000 sheets of paper which they themselves took to the law enforcement officials. Initially they nabbed a trainee from Cottbus. The second was a teacher from Baden-Württemberg, who didn’t just use MP3s from file sharing networks but even burnt CDs in large numbers. “Everyone knows someone, who knows someone, who is smitten by the file sharing bug”, Lüngen rattles off time and again. This sentence is often heard even in conversations with Rasch. The lawyer, who studied music along with law, plays the organ. He laments the lack of respect for intellectual property but often also wonders about the naivety of most file sharing network users. “Very few people steal in shops because they are scared of being caught by a detective. But on the Internet, most of the criminals think they are invisible.”

The three-shift system
In 2007 alone, Lüngen and Rasch recorded incidences of file sharing by 25,000 unique users. They made a demand for prosecution in each of these cases. Public prosecutors in the whole of Germany had and are still having headaches over them. Approximately 12,000 cases resulted in either a conviction or the accused agreeing to an out-of-court settlement with Rasch. With or without the court, whoever receives mail from Rasch is bound to pay at least a few hundred Euros, possibly even a few thousand, depending on how many MP3s were uploaded and his or her income. The probability that a large-scale music pirate will be nabbed is almost a hundred percent. This is possible because such people share entire folders full of music, i.e., they allow other users to download music from their hard disks. From eight in the morning to late at night, employees of proMedia scan all popular file sharing networks for such files. Lüngen has place for up to 34 investigators. At present, there are about ten persons per shift.

Proper evidence for €10,000
The investigators process lists together with executives under contract with big German record labels, and search for file sharing network users who upload titles of certain copyrighted artists. They might overlook computers with a few copyrighted songs, but no one from Lüngen’s team will reveal the actual numbers. If a user exceeds this limit, then the investigators record every little detail—what music is uploaded to which peer-to-peer network, when, and how much. They take screenshots of the entire music list when there are 10,000 songs.

The IP address is recorded because that is the only way the users can be identified. The investigators control user hashes— digital fingerprints created from the P2P client and MAC addresses of the PCs—which identify the users as old acquaintances, even when they upload their music with a different IP address.

The proMedia employees download two titles as a trial, which they have to listen to completely irrespective of whether it is teeny-pop by Tokio Hotel or classical hits by Andrea Bocelli. In the process, a capture tool records the sender and receiver of every single data packet. This is necessary to prove that the file is an original version of the song and the download originated from the relevant suspect or proMedia will not be able to appear in court with insufficient proof. Lüngen is of great help as a consultant on the Internet and otherwise. When he searches through computers on behalf of public prosecutors, he uses a copy of the hard disk. He generates it with a forensic system worth €10,000 which does not change even a single bit. “Otherwise it would mean that I could be passing off pirated copies to someone.”

Despite the expense, investigators nab 120 to 150 file sharers every day, and these are not even in their databases yet. Their data is played on a hard disk twice daily and then brought into Clemens Rasch’s chamber. This way he sets the mills of justice in relentless motion.

However, the efforts seem to be paying off. Lüngen believes that he can see a decrease in file sharing activity. “One year ago, BearShare had 1.2 million active users. Today there are 400,000. And I am convinced that this is because of our efforts.” It does not matter to Lüngen that many move to other systems and use direct downloading techniques such as RapidShare. “At the moment they are safe. But we will get them soon.” proMedia has a gateway to RapidShare and manually deletes directories with music—without any consequences for the uploading party.

In the future, Rasch and Lüngen want to demand log data of the uploader from the operators of RapidShare. Lüngen says, “Thanks to data retention, there is more time to investigate the owner of each file uploaded.” Lawyer Rasch also is pleased with this trend. He says, “It is not that bad if the cases don’t become tricky again.” “The effort for every success is increasing, but when you bust something, you are sure to find a big fish. Even if it sounds strange; I would like to meet real pirates sometime.

Source : Chip magazine
 
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