Record labels hire students to hunt down peers who pirate music

Depending on who you talk to, downloading music online is either an unscrupulous crime or a free alternative to iTunes. Today's major record labels believe in the former, and they've spent the better part of the last decade trying to protect their property.

But their latest measure to thwart copyright infringement is nearly the digital equivalent of a schoolmate ratting you out for skipping class.

As Casey Chan of Gizmodo reports, record labels are using a student task force to seek out fellow students who illegally pirate music.

"EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner are funneling money to an anti-piracy group called proMedia whose sole purpose is to hunt down copyright infringements," reveals Chan. "The company, according to one anonymous employee who works there, employs around 35 students who crawl and comb through forums, blogs and file hosting sites to find people who pirate music."

[ Related: Bill C-11 could bring SOPA-like online piracy laws to Canada ]

The inside man, who TorrentFreak refers to only as 'Peter,' is a 26-year-old musician and student teacher. He has worked at proMedia's office in Hamburg, Germany, for the past four years.

Using students to hunt down their own may seem odd to some, but as Charlie Osborne of ZDNet explains, it makes perfect sense.

"Who best to hunt down prolific pirateers than those who arguably understand the technology involved more than other age groups?" asks Osborne. "Students. Known for their free exchange and grabbing of files protected by copyright law, from music to books and television shows, it does seem that often when one reads legislation drafted in order to try and combat the issue, a basic fundamental understanding of how you acquire such files online is lacking. (SOPA comes to mind)."

In addition to trolling Google to search blogs and forums, Peter and his peers engage in what TorrentFreak describes as "the most controversial anti-piracy work — tracking down file-sharers on P2P networks such as BitTorrent in order to extract cash settlements from them."

"According to Spiegel, the BVMI (Bundesverband Musikindustrie - The Federal Association of Music Industry in Germany) reports that it closed (read: settled or gave up on) 13,562 civil cases on behalf of the labels in 2008 alone (more recent data was not provided). As revealed by an earlier TorrentFreak investigation, there is big money to be made from these settlements. Universal, Warner and EMI look for around 1,200 euros per time, with Sony requesting around 950 euros."

[ Related: The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and what it means for Canadians ]

As of now, this particular practice seems to have limited its reach to the borders of Europe. But similar penalties for copyright infringement could find their way across the pond in the coming months.

"The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), helped by all major Internet providers in the United States, will begin to warn and punish copyright infringers in the months to come," according to a TorrentFreak report.

"Those caught sharing copyright works will receive several warning messages and subsequent punishment if they continue to infringe. The parties agreed on a system through which copyright infringers are warned that their behavior is unacceptable. After five or six warnings ISPs may then take a variety of repressive measures."

(The Canadian Press photo)