The music industry's secret anti-Napster software, formally known as Internet Anti-Piracy System, less formally as Media Tracker, has been brought out of the shadows.
The software, developed by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), mimics all the commonly used and less-well-known file-sharing clients used to share music. The software can also be used to keep an eye on IRC chatrooms and newsgroups, according to New Zealand Web site 7amnews.com, which has obtained what it claims are screenshots of Media Tracker in operation.
The pictures appear to have been leaked from an anti-piracy operative in the IFPI's UK affiliate, the British Phonographic Institute.
Media Tracker builds up a list of tracks, the networks they're being shared on - Napster, Freenet, Gnutella etc. - the sharer's IP address and the name of their host or ISP. The date and time the song at which a given song was shared is also recorded. All this is held in a database that can be used to cross-check individuals' sharing patterns and to locate ISPs with a high percentage of sharers among their subscribers.
"The system is capable of performing follow-up queries of machines that are known offenders and if found to still be breaching copyright, legal action could be launched," says the 7amnews.com report.
Indeed, one facility of the software is the ability to send an instant Cease & Desist email to offending users or their host ISP.
The IFPI's initiative ties in remarkably well with off-the-cuff threats made by a Sony executive last summer. At the Americas Conference on Information Systems, Sony Pictures Entertainment senior VP Steve Heckler said the industry would block copyright infringement.
"We will develop technology that transcends the individual user," he said. "We will firewall Napster at source - we will block it at your cable company, we will block it at your phone company, we will block it at your [ISP]. We will firewall it at your PC."
Scary stuff, and it looks like that's broadly what the industry has indeed attempted to do. The privacy and data protection implications are clear.
While Napster may at last have been neutered, that still leaves the likes of Gnutella and Freenet - "a new and worrying generation of services", according to IFPI - to tackle, either through direct action against users or, in countries where they aren't protected by legislation like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the ISPs. ®
7amnews.com: The Recording Industry's Secret Weapon Exposed