Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Big Media DMCA Notices: Guilty until proven innocent

It's no secret that media companies have started to hire companies such as BayTSP to automatically find file sharers and send letters to their ISPs. The goal of this is to use fear to persuade people to use legal methods of getting digital content.

Many ISP's, especially universities, trust the good faith of these companies and will automatically deactivate the Internet connection of those who they get notifications for. As a personal project, and with the help of Carnegie Mellon's Information Security Office (which employs me to work on various computing security tasks), I decided to investigate the reliability of notices from companies such as BayTSP. The answer: the companies do not actually gather the data they claim to. Their standards for sending DMCA notices are very low.

In order to understand the issues, it's first necessary to have a basic understanding of BitTorrent. In order to download something via BitTorrent you download a ".torrent" file from any number of sites that index the content. This file contains a fingerprint for every piece of the file that you are attempting to download. It also contains a reference to a tracker. This tracker is the way that peers (the people downloading the content) find each other. After contacting the tracker, you contact each of the potential peers that the tracker shares with you (and other peers may contact you). The client then begins swapping parts of the file with each of the peers. What the media companies object to is that in the process of downloading the file, your client will offer parts of their copyrighted content to other users -- a violation of copyright law. In order to catch these violations, BayTSP advertises fake clients to the Bittorrent tracker and uses the list of peers which it gets back to find violations

For my investigation, I wrote a very simple BitTorrent client. My client sent a request to the tracker, and generally acted like a normal Bittorrent client up to sharing files. The client refused to accept downloads of, or upload copyrighted content. It obeyed the law.

I placed this client on a number of torrent files that I suspected were monitored by BayTSP (For my own protection I don't want to identify the torrents used for this research. I used the fact that NBC is a client of BayTSP to find trackers. If you want to check if BayTSP is monitoring a torrent, look for IPs coming from ranges in Because the university's information security office is very diligent about processing DMCA notices, I would be able to tell if the BayTSP folks sent notices based on this. With just this, completely legal, BitTorrent client, I was able to get notices from BayTSP.

To put this in to perspective, if BayTSP were trying to bust me for doing drugs, it'd be like getting arrested because I was hanging out with some dealers, but they never saw me using, buying, or selling any drugs.

The fact that BayTSP does not confirm that the client it is accusing actually uploads illegal content could cause false identification of innocent users. BitTorrent trackers work via a standard HTTP request request, for example:

GET /announce?info_hash=579CC43E4D66D35AE22312985EA04275939AB477&peer_id=asdfasdfadfasdf&port=12434&compact=1

One easy way to make somebody look likea bittorrenter would be to get them to go to a website with the code <img src=";amp;amp;port=12434&compact=1" />. They'd be on the tracker, and BayTSP would see their IP address, and might send them an infringement notice. BayTSP might check that they are listening on the port they advertise (maybe even check for a BitTorrent handshake). If the user is using bittorrent for legal usages, you could just advertise a port they were listening on. More investigation is needed into exactly what triggers the notice.

One even easier trick you can use: the BitTorrent clients BayTSP uses support Peer Exchange. You can give them the name of another peer for them to rat out to the ISP.

At the end of the day, BayTSP (and probably other similar companies) are sending DMCA notices which claim that they detected a user uploading and downloading copyrighted files. This is a lie. They didn't catch the user in the act of downloading. A lying tracker, a peer using peer exchange, hostile web page, or buggy BitTorrent client could all result in a false DMCA notice.

If your ISP forwards a DMCA notice from these guys, point them here. This research suggests that they have no evidence of wrong-doing. If ISPs learn that the folks sending them DMCA notices are not being completely honest, they may be willing to reconsider their position about how they respond to the notices. The people I work with at Carnegie Mellon seemed willing to reevaluate their policies given this evidence. I believe that ISPs should require that any peer-to-peer related DMCA notice include a statement regarding exactly what evidence of sharing was found. Ideally, the notice should contain evidence that could be corroborated with log files (for example, "we found that the client at uploaded 1 MB of file X to". The ISP may be able to check that there was 1 MB of traffic between these two clients).

A piece of good news for anybody who has gotten a bittorrent related notice from BayTSP: it doesn't seem like a studio could do much in terms of court action with the evidence BayTSP gives them.

For the technically minded, I though I'd share some observations of the behavior of BayTSP's clients

  • BayTSP's clients don't don't accept incoming connections, only send outgoing ones. I wonder what exactly this is for.
  • Some of the BayTSP clients claim to be using Azureus (and support Azureus extensions), while others run libtorrent. I'm not sure why they are doing this
  • When BayTSP's clients connect to a BT user, they claim to not have downloaded any of the file, but refuse uploads. Not only does this behavior not make any sense for an actual user, but it seems like BayTSP would want to accept data, which might provide proof of infringement.
  • Some of the IP ranges I noticed coming from BayTSP were: 154.37.66.xx, 63.216.76.xx, 216.133.221.xx. Sometimes, they make themselves really obvious on the tracker. For example, 154.37.66.xx and 63.216.76.xx will send 10 clients to the same tracker all claiming to listen on port 12320. Maybe trackers should block these folks


crf said...

For some other of these kind of companies, using the gnutella or ed2k protocols, they do not necessarily match a hash with a particular file. I read a report from a user that deliberately made a fake file with a name that might make you think it was illegally pirated. He was forwarded a copyright infringement notice by a company similar to BayTSP along with a threat of service cancellation by his ISP. This makes me think that such companies may either troll a user's computer of shared files, or search the network, looking for certain suspicious file names, and assume from the names of the files alone that the underlying content is represented by the name, and thus an infringement.

That's another test you may wish to try. You may be assuming too much by noting that this company could have checked that the hashes represented in the .torrent file actually match a particular copyrighted file they're authorized to protect. Try uploading some torrents with either fake, or perhaps useful and legal-to-share content, but give the torrent a suspicious name. See if you get take-down notices. (Although other torrenters may be fooled as well -- so if you want to conduct an experiment like this, you might also ask, in confidence, the tracker's admin for cooperation in any experiment.)

(Interestingly, the user I mentioned was Canadian, and the IP protection organisation sending the infringement letter to the ISP was American. The allegation of infringement by the protection organisation was untrue (certainly, they didn't do a modicum of analysis necessary to make it stand up in court), possibly defamatory, and repeated to a third party (the ISP): the gist: this may meet the definition of libel, except for the fact that the user was, in this case, trying to entrap the content protection organisation.)

Anonymous said...

Your article on these BayTSP notices reminds me of when large parts of the Windows NT4/2000 source code were leaked. I created a fake "Windows Longhorn Source Code" file which was about 1.2GB in size and full of zeroes, and then shared it on eMule to see how far it spread (quite far, initially.)

A couple of weeks later I received a copyright infringement notice from my ISP for this fake file. They had been contacted by one of Microsoft's agents who obviously conducted their analyses using a method of similar incompetence to BayTSP's.

Anonymous said...

it'd be like getting arrested because I was hanging out with some dealers

More to the point, it'd be like getting busted just because you were standing on the street corner, any street corner, because we (BayTSP, RIAA, MPAA, DirectTV, etc) all know drug dealers are the only ones who stand on street corners.

Anonymous said...

Your report is very interesting, but it would carry several orders of magniude more weight if the Carnegie Mellon Information Security Office were to officially publish it. I hope they will do so, as this kind of information is greatly needed.

Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed. Please see what you can do to get CM to publish this officially.

Anonymous said...

It could also be construed (in light of the claims made on their website) that BayTSP is defrauding their own customers. Hmmmmmmmmmmm.

Ben Maurer said...

Its unlikely that CMU will post this report officially (I'd really like to do that). Lots more time and effort is needed to fully pin down what these people are doing. For example, I only investigated one of the media companies and one protocol. I don't really have the time to give this effort the love it needes. I'd be happy to help put somebody on the right track though.

Troy said...

OK lets try this on Kazaa since its just a kiddy network anyway. Maybe we can put an end to this crap.

However this may be only a plot to get others to post fakes and ruin p2p. I wouldn't fall for that too much. However Kazaa has sucked since 2003 and no one will care if you use Kazaa as an experiment.

Voodoohippie said...

Well its about time we stop this crap. We can use Kazaa to experiment with since I believe this could be a ploy to get everyone to experiment on regular p2p apps.

Please do not use good networks to try this crap. If you want to try this crap please use Kazaa or maybe some other network that no real user with be trying to download anything good.

Anonymous said...

I work in an european university NOC. Our ISP (an academic consortium) is flooding us with alleged piracy incident reports from BayTSP and the likes, that are largely unsubstantiated and unveryfiable.

If we get an incident report from the ISP, we must comply the law and investigate every case dutyfully, but it just sucks to waste our time with this trivialities while we have real work to do.

Juhaz said...

It's worse than that, I'm afraid. The ISPs have no choice but to comply even if they know perfectly well it's bogus claim, because if they fight that, they may lose their position as "safe harbor" and can then be directly targeted. Not particularly surprising that they don't want that to happen.

Anonymous said...

Could they even bust you at all since if they don't provide any content, have you committed a crime?
It would be like handing a drug dealer money and not getting any product, you made a transaction but there is nothing illegal about giving that person money..?

Anonymous said...

Interesting research, but I have to ask: how many bittorent users have a tweaked client or upload fake files of copyrighted content just to fool BayTSP-like snoopers? Sure you're not doing anything lawfully wrong, but you're showing strong signs that you are. You know, it's like going to the airport wearing a belt of fake dynamite sticks and complain that the cops arrest you. Not to say that I condone what BayTSP is doing, but I'm not sure you have proven that their method is completely flawed in a typical P2P usage context.

Anonymous said...

Or, if you like to play with fire, download and share copyrighted stuff under a legit filename (Knoppix Linux Live System for example).
You can always complain you thought you were downloading legal stuff if they bust you.

To refer to the example of the airport, it's like taking the plane with a soda can you bought on the street filled with explosive stuff you don't know about : they probably won't find it until they search you for good, but you didn't mean to do something wrong with it.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if they can do the same for FTP transfers and Rapidshare, etc, downloads? Rapidshare and other similiar services has so much copyrighted material on their servers, and this seems to have taken the place of clients like Kazaa, eDonkey, eMUle, etc.

Anonymous said...

"To put this in to perspective, if BayTSP were trying to bust me for doing drugs, it'd be like getting arrested because I was hanging out with some dealers, but they never saw me using, buying, or selling any drugs."

I disagree. It would be like getting arrested for asking for drugs. You asked for the content. You didn't take delivery of it, but that doesn't matter to a police officer. You would need to convince the district attorney or judge.

That is the way the legal system works in the United States. The police arrest based on evidence of a crime. They can't possibly wait to prove it before they arrest you. Same here - the ISP was notified based on evidence of a crime. You won't be successfully convicted without your opportunity to explain why you believe it wasn't a crime.

I see nothing wrong with how BayTSP reacted, and feel that you got exactly what you were asking for (literally).

Oh yeah, and I work for a University. And I think a good portion of the DMCA is a pile of crap, even going so far as to violate existing consumer rights laws. I just wanted to point out the error in your analogy. You asked for it. You said "yes, I'll help you sell these drugs". Just because you didn't follow through with it (even though you had no intention or capability of following through) is not a reason to avoid arrest - just perhaps a reason to avoid conviction.

Anonymous said...

"A piece of good news for anybody who has gotten a bittorrent related notice from BayTSP: it doesn't seem like a studio could do much in terms of court action with the evidence BayTSP gives them."

A piece of bad news for anyone who actually gets sued: they can and likely will subpoena your computer and forensically analyze your hard drive. They will likely be able to show intent, *if* it was there.

If you scrub your hard drive or otherwise destroy evidence, you may be found guilty of tampering with evidence, and be in even more trouble. Plus, since they would likely be filing a civil suit, proof of guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt isn't required - that is only true for criminal proceedings. If they produce evidence that you were guilty, and you can't produce evidence that you didn't do it, because you wiped your hard drive, you might get a double-whammy: Charged with evidence tampering (a criminal offense) and ruled against in the copyright case (a civil offense).

Kelly said...

This is a very nice post, and I want to see how others react to this.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if BayTSP needs to be 100% accurate. What they seem to have found is either:

1) a copyright violation under the law, or

2) someone pretending to make a copyright violation in order to prove a point.

Some in effect gaming the system in order to prove ... what exactly? That the reporter was wrong so therefore the illegal activity is OK?

Whats that prove?

And more to the point, why should an ISP care whether you're a self appointed protector of others' rights to commit copyright violations (under the law as it is currently written). Isnt the real issue here that people continue to break the law?

Stuff like this probably hardens opinion against your cause, quite honestly. Half ass, ill thought out, illigical protesting is worse than none.

free ps3 said...

Thanks for the nice post!

Anonymous said...

so i went over to bayTSP and it says in one of the faqs:

"The time stamp in the notice reflects the time that BayTSP detected the file on your computer, not necessarily when it was downloaded. "



"The information on your notice provides you with details, including the name of the file, the time that the file was seen and the file size."

the two quotes seem to indicate that they do have proof that someone (whoever the notice was sent to) downloaded the file in question??

so i dont see how you can argue that they arent doing their jobs properly unless i am missing something

(note i am a relative newbie so i may have gotten wrong end of the stick)

Anonymous said...

dude, i just realized how to make money with copyrigt bull shit. Okay make a dumb movie but with a cool name, spread it on the net then sue people for downloading it.

Anonymous said...

"the two quotes seem to indicate that they do have proof that someone (whoever the notice was sent to) downloaded the file in question??

so i dont see how you can argue that they arent doing their jobs properly unless i am missing something"

Yes, you are missing something. BayTSP are LYING. This very article is all about someone who ran an experiment that proved those statements to be lies. BayTSP sent false notices CLAIMING they saw / have_proof someone was infringing when in fact that person (or even a printer) in fact did not infringe anything. BayTSP merely carelessly collects IP addresses and spams out infringement accusations.

Tilo said...

Good Job! :)

Anonymous said...

so... if you leech torrents and never seed or upload in any way, baytsp can still contact your isp and get it shut down?

Anonymous said...

If you received a notice for using BT and you do not even have the file in your hard drive, what do you do with the notice? I had a notice forwarded by my Universities' dormitory's ISP. They said they were going to terminate my internet in 24hours, but then it has been over 24hours, and my internet is alright. Should I reply to the E-Mail? Many people said to ignore it, but I am not sure.

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