As part of its legal campaign against alleged file traders the Recording Industry Association of America confirmed it has sent out tens of thousands of cease and desist letters in the last five years demanding that files be removed, or Web sites disabled. But earlier this month, the RIAA admitted for the first time that it sent out dozens of false notices without confirming that the recipients were actually offering copyrighted files for download.As part of its legal campaign against alleged file traders the Recording Industry Association of America confirmed it has sent out tens of thousands of cease and desist letters since 1996 demanding that files be removed, or Web sites disabled. But earlier this month, the RIAA admitted for the first time that it sent out dozens of false notices without confirming that the recipients were actually offering copyrighted files for download.The RIAA is blaming a temp worker for sending out the letters that cite supposed violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In a statement, the RIAA said, "We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused."Such bogus allegations could have caused a lot more than simple inconvenience for students and staff at Penn State University's astronomy and astrophysics department. The department almost lost Internet connection to a key server in the middle of final exams when the university's central computing office received a letter from the RIAA. For many organizations that receive such notices, the threat of lawsuits is enough for them to impose sanctions on the alleged offender without even investigating if the allegation is true.The RIAA ended up withdrawing the notice against the department, when it was discovered that there were no files on its machine that violated copyright laws. The RIAA used a flawed automated program which simply assumed that a directory named "usher," and a legal MP3 file on the same computer, amounted to a copyrighted song by a group called Usher. As it turned out, the server in question, used to publish research and grant proposals that contained the name of a professor Peter Usher, and the perfectly legal MP3 file is of a song by Penn State astronomers about the Swift gamma ray satellite.A national broadband Internet provider named Speakeasy also received a false cease-and-desist letter from the RIAA. The letter alleged that a subscriber's FTP site Amigascne.org, dedicated to the Amiga computer, "offers approximately 0 sound files for download. Many of these files contain recordings owned by our member companies, including songs by such artists as Creed."The RIAA is claiming that the errant temp mistakenly sent out 24 false notices. But the incident again raises questions about the accuracy of the automated Internet crawlers that the recording industry is using to locate files that allegedly violate copyright law. The RIAA won't say how the crawlers work, and they admit that they don't listen to the allegedly illegal files. Questions have also been raised about whether more than 24 false notices were sent out.Speakeasy says it will not take legal action. But under the DMCA it is actually quite difficult for receivers of false notices to sue unless the sender "knowingly materially misrepresents" the allegations in the takedown notices.Incidents like these will hopefully have a number of repercussions that could benefit P2P users. They might make ISPs and universities more skeptical about the RIAA's copyright claims and be less eager to punish alleged offenders - or turn over information about subscribers as in the Verizon case. It might further alienate music fans against the music industry forcing the record labels to back off. And it might make legislators think about how heavily weighted the current DMCA rules are towards copyright holders who are obliged to offer very little proof of infractions.In the meantime, the notices will continue to spell trouble for anyone who received one. It took the Penn State department of astronomy and astrophysics four days to sort out the allegation. And Speakeasy defended the RIAA action when it sent a notice to the subscriber who ran the Amiga site. If the RIAA sends a notice, the company reasoned, surely a law must have been broken.