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November 13, 2003

The Recording Industry Association of America apologized recently to Penn State University for sending an incorrect legal notice of alleged Internet copyright violations to Penn State's department of astronomy and astrophysics. Department officials at first were puzzled, because the notification invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and alleged that one of its FTP sites was unlawfully distributing songs by the musician Usher. The letter demanded that the department "remove the site" and delete the infringing sound files.

But no such files existed on the server, which is used by faculty and graduate students to publish research and grant proposals. Matt Soccio, the department's system administrator, said that he searched the FTP server "for files ending in mp3, wma, ogg, wav, mov, mpg, etc., and found nothing that would precipitate this complaint."

Except, that is, when Soccio realized two things. The department has on its faculty a professor emeritus named Peter Usher whose work on radio-selected quasars the FTP site hosted. The site also had a copy of an a cappella song performed by Astropella about the Swift gamma ray satellite, which Penn State helped to design. The combination of the word "Usher" and the suffix ".mp3" had triggered the RIAA's automated copyright crawlers.

Posted by acapnews at November 13, 2003 12:48 AM

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