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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 July, 2003, 05:00 GMT 06:00 UK
Cyber sleuths hunt file-swappers
Maggie Shiels
By Maggie Shiels
In California

They have been described as Hollywood's digital detectives and they have a warning for anyone illegally trading music or movies: "You can run but you can never hide."

Mark Ishikawa
Mark Ishikawa: We have a very high effectiveness rate
Mark Ishikawa, a former hacker, is the CEO of BayTSP, arguably one of the most recognised and biggest companies working in the business of patrolling the web to unmask violators of copyrighted music.

From his Silicon Valley base he told BBC News Online: "There is no lock that can't be picked and our technology ensures that there is not a rock in the world you can hide under if you are sharing files.

"If you have an active internet address or connection and you are actively sharing files, our spiders will find you."

With the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) turning up the heat on illegal file-sharing and issuing hundreds of subpoenas, the role of these copyright cops is central in that fight.

"We are very successful at what we do," said Mr Ishikawa, who says he is not working directly for the RIAA but does have three of the top five record labels as clients.

"We find between 1.5 million to two million copyright infringements a day and we have a very high effectiveness rate. About 85% of the people we send notices to go away and we never see them again."

Unique number

The RIAA claims that around 57 million people have downloaded music in the United States alone and as a result sales in the last four years have fallen 14% to $12.6bn

The process of finding the pirates is down to what the BayTSP's CEO calls "matching technology" and some old-fashioned electronic gumshoe work.

Blank CD into a CD drive
Busta Rhymes - Pass The Courvoisier
U2 - I Still Havenšt Found What I'm Looking For
Bon Jovi -You Give Love A Bad Name
Van Halen - Hot for Teacher
This involves launching robotic searches across the internet, on all major peer-to-peer networks, in 65,000 newsgroups, FTP sites, Internet Relay chat channels and auction and retail sites.

"Using our matching technology, we identify the user name, the protocol they're using, which file-sharing protocol if it's just a web protocol or not. But the most important piece of information we detect is their IP address," explained Mr Ishikawa.

"The IP address is unique at the given point of time that they're connected to the internet."

He says once BayTSP has collected all this information, the copyright holder can use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to force an internet service provider (ISP) to reveal who is on that particular IP address.

Users charged with piracy, or ISP's refusing to reveal the identity of an IP address, could face lawsuits for damages from $750 to $150,000 under US copyright law.

Thinking of hiding behind nicknames like "hottdudeXXX" or "bluemonkey13" or even installing new software to cloak your identity? Think again, says Mr Ishikawa.

"We got an e-mail last week from someone saying 'How did you find me? I used Peer Guardian' and he thought that would save him from our spiders. There is nowhere to hide."

Mr Ishikawa says the company's "digital fingerprinting" enables BayTSP computers to identify songs and movies, even bad copies made with camcorders, based on 30 second snippets.

Films online

While most of the focus has been on trading music, Hollywood is becoming increasingly concerned about the number of movies now being shared illegally.

Evelyn Espinosa
Evelyn Espinosa: You can download a film in just hours
Two of the industry's top seven movie studios have engaged the sleuthing services of BayTSP, but because of contractual arrangements they can't be named.

A snapshot of illegal movie downloads by BayTSP's chief technology officer Evelyn Espinosa was revealing.

"This is just over a few hours and I have almost 14,000 records with a variety of different titles ranging from Daddy Day Care to Anger Management and Charlie's Angels."

She says the growing availability of broadband connections is the main reason movies are being targeted for illegal swapping.

"These connections are now so fast that you can download a whole movie in just a few hours."

Software infringement has also been described as ripe for abuse and the Business Software Alliance says it has increased by 20% the number of notices and warnings it issues.

For BayTSP's Mark Ishikawa, the illegal file-swapping sector has been good for his business. He says the privately traded firm is "cash-positive, venture-backed and doubling its revenue every quarter".

As well as making money, Mr Ishikawa's vision for BayTSP is to become a hi-tech version of Pinkerton, the legendary detective agency that protected presidents like Abraham Lincoln and hunted outlaws like Jesse James.

"We are just like a private detective firm. We have no law enforcement capability. What we do is capture the information to help bring down the bad guys," he said.

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