Two professors and a student at the University of Washington released a study today explaining "Why My Printer Received a DMCA Takedown Notice" [PDF]. They argue that DMCA takedown notices, used as the principle mechanism for enforcing copyright on the Internet, should be viewed skeptically. We couldn’t agree more!
The researchers examined BitTorrent file-sharing networks using specially designed BitTorrent clients to monitor the traffic on these networks. Even though their clients did not upload or download any files, the researchers received over 400 takedown requests accusing them of copyright infringement. Every one of those notices was a false positive. Their results show that "potentially any Internet user is at risk for receiving DMCA takedown notices today.”
In fact, as the New York Times put it, "an inanimate object could also get the blame." Three laserjet printers used in the study were accused in takedown letters by the MPAA of downloading copies of "Iron Man” and the latest Indiana Jones film.
Colleges and universities should pay close attention to the findings, given that students often face harsh penalties from their institutions if they are hit with a DMCA notice. The RIAA has admitted that it bases its DMCA notices to universities and colleges solely on identifying files as "available” for sharing even though two courts, D. Mass. [PDF] and D. Ariz. [PDF], have confirmed that making files available, in and of itself, does not violate copyright law, and even making files available can cause no conceivable financial harm. (The RIAA does insist that their investigators actually download files before sending prelitigation letters and filing lawsuits.)