RIAA Investigators Challenged by Technical Expert

By Jon Newton 12/30/05

A technical expert working with the lawyer who's been handling the Patti Santangelo case hopes he'll be opening a new factual frontier, for the first time debunking supposed evidence upon which many of the Big Four Organized Music cartel's anti-p2p file sharing lawsuits are pinned.

Ray Beckerman has been looking for a way to crack the process through which Sony Music, Vivendi Universal, Warner Music and EMI supposedly "prove" someone has been infringing copyrights.

And Zi Mei is the man, Beckerman told p2pnet. "I've known him for a long time. He's brilliant."

Jon Newton

Among other things, RIAA employee Jonathan Whitehead claims, "metadata accompanying each file [allegedly downloaded from defendants' computers by the RIAA] demonstrates that the user is engaged in copyright infingement," says Zi Mei in an affidavit supporting a motion to vacate an ex parte order.

'Ex parte' means, "one side has communicated to the Court without the knowledge of the other parties to the suit," says Beckerman in an earlier explanation of the way the RIAA identifies its victims. It's, "very rarely permitted, since the American system of justice is premised upon an open system in which, whenever one side wants to communicate with the Court, it has to give prior notice to the other side, so that they too will have an opportunity to be heard," he says.

But, Zi Mei goes on in the document, the RIAA doesn't even begin to explain how it manages to reach the conclusion that the metadata are proof of copyright infringement.

And that's not surprising, he says, "since there is no correlation whatsoever between (a) metadata in the files allegedly downloaded by the RIAA and (b) the origin of these files."

Zi Mei also emphasises that mp3 metadata are optional and may, or may not, be present in a file, and may or may not be accurate.

Since they're aren't part of the audio data, a computer or mp3 player can play files regardless of the existence or content of metatags, he says, also pointing out that literally anyone can create, edit or remove ID3/ID4 tags with software bundled with mp3 players, or any other easy to find applications.

"Simply put, there is no correlation between metadata in a file and the origin of the file," states Zi Mei in his document. "In no way can it be used as a tracking mechanism like a FEDEX or UPS tracking number.

"It certainly cannot be used to determine whether the files allegedly found on the defendants' computers got there legally or illegally, since those files could have been downloaded from an authorized online service, or copied legally from commercially purchased audio CDs.

Zi Mei also explains that moreover, hash files are equally useless as proof of wrong-doing.

On Recording Industry vs The People, Beckerman says at the core of the entire RIAA litigation process are:

(1) the mass lawsuit against a large number of "John Does";
(2) the "ex parte" order of discovery; and
(3) the subpoenas demanding the names and addresses of the "John Does".

"In Atlantic v. John Does 1-25, a case pending in federal court in Manhattan, a midwesterner sued as John Doe Number 8 has made motions which seek to knock out all three (3) prongs of the RIAA litigation machine," he declares.

"On December 1st he made a motion to sever the mass lawsuit, and dismiss as to John Does 2-25, on the ground that it is impermissible to join 25 unrelated defendants under the federal rules, where there is no connection between the defendants other than the fact that they are accused of engaging in similar, but unconnected, conduct.

"Also on December 1st, he moved to quash the subpoena issued to his ISP, on the ground that the RIAA has not sufficiently alleged any copyright infringement.

"Today, December 28th, he has moved to knock out the third underpinning of the RIAA John Doe weaponry - the ex parte order."

More to come on this. Stay tuned.

Jon Newton is the editor of p2pnet.net and is a regular contributer to MP3 Newswire. Jon's site is devoted to the politics of digital music and his insights as well as those of his co-writers can be read there. We urge you to explore it.

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