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Repeated mainstream media stories that the Big 4 organised music gang has been able to persuade American ISPs to act as corporate cops, enabling Vivendi Universal, EMI, Warner Music and Sony Music to stop suing their own customers themselves, must be erroneous. “Users of P2P networks who distribute files over a network can be identified by using Internet Protocol (’IP’) addresses because the unique IP address of the computer offering the files for distribution can be captured by another user during a search or a file transfer,” says an official RIAA court document, categorically. No wonder all those file sharers get caught all the time. Actually, they don’t. Hundreds of millions of people around the world share music with each other online every second of every minute of every day and the chances of any one of them becoming a victim of the RIAA, or any of the other Vivendi Universal, EMI, Warner Music and Sony Music ‘trade’ units, is virtually zero. But the Big 4 labels like people to believe subpoenas are successfully prosecuted court cases lodged for the non-existent crime of illegal filesharing. The statement at the beginning comes from one of the RIAA’s latest efforts, filed in Omaha, Nebraska, on March 4 - Recordings v Adams. And this means reports of the RIAA having ceased bringing new lawsuits were ‘exaggerated’ (just like the number of court victories, which so far number Zero) suggests Recording Industry vs The People Ray Beckerman dryly. But back to IP addresses, “Plaintiffs [read the Big 4, or their components] have identified each defendant by the unique Internet Protocol (’IP’) address assigned to that defendant on the date and time of their alleged infringing activity,” said another official court document, this time taking back to 2007. Oh really?Here’s what University of Chicago professor Mike O’Donnell had to say in reference to another case in which IP addresses were offered as “identities” »»» 1. IP addresses are never assigned to persons. They are assigned to network interfaces on particular hosts or virtual hosts. A virtual host is pretty much any computational abstraction we like. 2. IP addresses are not assigned by any authority with the mission to identify the persons responsible for the network interfaces to which they are assigned. In most cases, the assigner has no competence to make such an identification. 3. Most IP addresses are in fact assigned by an immediate neighbor on a local area network. Furthermore, that neighboring router is the only agent that deals with the assignment in any way. Incoming traffic to a given IP address reaches the “assigned” interface through the information stored only at that neighboring router. 4. Network protocols provide no way whatsoever to determine whether incoming traffic to a particular IP address has been solicited by some action at that address, or is gratuitous. (It is not at all crazy to worry that some offending traffic is generated by RIAA action in its attempts to identify offenders, and probably not even as a conscious attempt to frame the recipient). 5. The IP number given as return address in a packet is provided initially by the actual sender, which may (and in the case of an attacker often does) provide an address used by another interface not at all involved in the production of the packet. So the return IP address in a packet received by an RIAA detection effort does not indicate even the IP address of the actual sender in any reliable way.I am one of at least thousands of people who could easily provide expert testimony on the points above. Tracing of identities through IP numbers can definitely have value in law enforcement, but by itself an IP number on a packet has only suggestive value and is not reliable evidence at all. The association of packets bearing a particular IP number with the actions of a particular person depend on assumptions about the behavior of that person and all other persons who take actions causing packets to be transmitted (since any IP number can be entered by any network software anywhere, with no necessary connection to the network interface “assigned” that number).