Over the weekend, some enterprising hackers weaseled their way into the e-mail system of MediaDefender, a Southern California-based company that works with major labels and movie studios to try and make stealing those companies’ products a little bit harder. As Douglas Wolk described the company in Spin: “The bread and butter of MediaDefender’s business is interfering with unauthorized file-sharing: disseminating fake files, clogging uploaders’ queues, disrupting downloads. To advertise their services, they provide record labels and film and TV studios with information on exactly when and where releases have leaked.” (And in their off-hours, they go and see Chris Kattan perform!)
A good chunk of the e-mails are banal in the way that only interoffice correspondence can be, but there are some interesting tidbits buried within, first and foremost among them being the fact that MediaDefender’s operatives have infiltrated pretty much every filesharing service/torrent site/leak bulletin board out there–including those whose users are pretty convinced that they’re operating “in secret,” like OiNK and Soulseek. (Better change your usernames!) And the albums listed in the long rundown of e-mails reads like a rundown of the past few months’ highest-priority releases: Ne-Yo, Feist, Brad Paisley. .And Nine Inch Nails, which is surely thrilling Trent Reznor.
Mediadefender’s response to Kanye West’s Graduation leak seems to encapsulate the company’s SOP: Members of the company’s “leak team” have every Rapidshare-linking, torrent-seeding site in their bookmarks, and when an album (or a song that’s been designated by the labels the company works with as a single) gets out there, they notify the label; then MD operatives start flooding sites with decoy copies. As this e-mail describes those decoys, “The file is real for 45 seconds, then goes to crap and sounds skippy, glitchy, etc.” While the company’s attempts to upload those bad files have been pretty much unsuccessful on more boutique sites–there’s even a chain from a SonyBMG employee berating them for not getting their shit together as far as faking out SoulSeek users–the glitchy files have, apparently, been “flooding” sites like eMule and Gnutella. (Do people still use those sites? Maybe that’s the reason for the flood. Just saying.)
Whether or not these tactics work is up in the air; after all, with so much music that sounds like absolute garbage these days, a song that sounds “glitchy” may not cause devoted BitTerrorists to run for the hills (or their local Best Buy) the way that the labels are hoping, and it seems that quite a few admins of file-sharing sites have recognized MediaDefender’s IP addresses and kicked the spoof torrents off their servers. But the majors must feel really good that they’re throwing a lot of money on at least trying to solve the piracy issue, instead of doing something silly like working out a longer-term solution that doesn’t involve basically deceiving people who are interested in their product, if not interested in the price point being offered. (They’re hardly the only short-sighted companies out there, either, it should be said.)