The RIAA mistakenly harassed Penn State’s department of astronomy and astrophysics about a nonexistent MP3 file on their computer – then – apologized for it:
- Last Thursday, the RIAA sent a stiff copyright warning to Penn State’s department of astronomy and astrophysics. Department officials at first were puzzled, because the notification invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and alleged that one of its FTP sites was unlawfully distributing songs by the musician Usher. The letter demanded that the department “remove the site” and delete the infringing sound files.
But no such files existed on the server, which is used by faculty and graduate students to publish research and grant proposals. Matt Soccio, the department’s system administrator, said that he searched the FTP server “for files ending in mp3, wma, ogg, wav, mov, mpg, etc., and found nothing that would precipitate this complaint.”
Except, that is, when Soccio realized two things. The department has on its faculty a professor emeritus named Peter Usher whose work on radio-selected quasars the FTP site hosted. The site also had a copy of an a capella song performed by astronomers about the Swift gamma ray satellite, which Penn State helped to design.
The combination of the word “Usher” and the suffix “.mp3” had triggered the RIAA’s automated copyright crawlers.
In an e-mail sent after a query from CNET News.com, the RIAA said a temporary employee had caused the notice to be sent. “We have withdrawn, and apologize for, the DMCA notice that had been sent to Penn State University in error. In order to safeguard against errors like this one, we have individuals look at each and every notice we send out. In this particular instance, a temp employee made a mistake and did not follow RIAA’s established protocol, and we regret any inconvenience this may have caused. We are currently reviewing any other notices this temp may have sent.”
….The RIAA’s notice went to the university’s central computing office, which told the department to delete the material or “we will need to disable access to the machine hosting the infringing song.” The central office then notified the department. Soccio said: “The swiftness of the activity the university wanted to take just around finals time scared the living daylights out of me. I’m just glad the university took my word for it that we weren’t violating copyright law.”
Now, Soccio said, he’s writing a letter to his members of Congress opposing the DMCA and will post it in the department for signatures. “I’m loath to think that our educational resources and years of valuable resources can be jeopardized just because some kid in a dorm room is downloading copyrighted material,” he said. “That’s not a price that society should have to pay.” [CNET]
Yet another illustration of the nightmare that is the DMCA.