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RIAA ditches MediaSentry

In another sign of the music industry’s recently announced retreat from a five-year-old antipiracy strategy, the Recording Industry Association of America has dumped the company it used to help it gather evidence for mass lawsuits it filed against people it claimed were illegally uploading copyrighted music.

The RIAA long used a company called MediaSentry to troll the Internet in search of people who uploaded large amounts of music. The information that MediaSentry collected became an integral part of the RIAA’s aggressive litigation campaign. Since 2003, the RIAA — a trade organization representing Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group, Sony Corp.’s Sony BMG Music Entertainment, EMI Group Ltd. and Warner Music Group Corp. — has sued around 35,000 people for what it says are illegal music uploads.

Now the RIAA will be rid of a company that became a frequent target of civil-rights advocates and others who complained that the RIAA’s legal tactics were excessive. MediaSentry is a unit of closely held, Belcamp, Md.-based SafeNet Inc.

Ray Beckerman, a New York lawyer who maintains the Recording Industry vs. the People blog and who has represented more than a dozen clients fighting the RIAA, said he considered the decision to drop MediaSentry a “victory” for his clients. MediaSentry representatives “have been invading the privacy of people. They’ve been doing very sloppy work,” he said.

Mr. Beckerman cites MediaSentry’s practice of looking for available songs in people’s file-sharing folders, downloading them, and using those downloads in court as evidence of copyright violations. He says MediaSentry couldn’t prove defendants had shared their files with anyone other than MediaSentry investigators.

MediaSentry says its work is high quality. The RIAA also stands by MediaSentry’s techniques, citing University of Washington research released last year that concluded the company’s methodology incorporates “best practices.”

The RIAA decided quietly to drop MediaSentry several months ago. It didn’t disclose why. John Desmond, vice president at MediaSentry, said that the company had already begun to wind down its evidence-collecting business. Instead, it is focusing on other areas, such as measuring the popularity of various online entertainment sites.

The RIAA announced last month that it planned to curtail its practice of filing mass lawsuits for copyright infringement. However, it still plans to closely monitor people it believes are illegally uploading copyrighted music, and continue with the legal action it already has in progress. It says it will still file lawsuits for exceptional cases.

In place of MediaSentry, the RIAA says it will use Copenhagen-based DtecNet Software ApS. The music industry had worked with DtecNet previously both in the U.S. and overseas, and liked its technology, said RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy.

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