April 23, 2014

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Review of MPAA's "Parent File Scan" Software

Yesterday the MPAA announced the availability of a new software tool called Parent File Scan. I decided to download it and try it out. Here’s my review.

According to an MPAA site,

Parent File Scan software helps consumers check whether their computers have peer-to-peer software and potentially infringing copies of motion pictures and other copyrighted material. Removing such material can help consumers avoid problems frequently caused by peer-to-peer software. The information generated by the software is made available only to the program’s user, and is not shared with or reported to the MPAA or another body.

In practice, if there are music files on a computer, no software tool can tell whether they’re legal or illegal, because there is no way to tell whether the files came from ripping the consumer’s own CDs (which is legal) or from infringing P2P downloading (which is illegal). Saying the music files on consumer computers are “potentially infringing” will probably cause some people to delete files that are perfectly legal. The implication that removing music files from your computer “can help [you] avoid problems frequently caused by peer-to-peer software” seems misleading. Of course, it’s totally correct that removing P2P apps will eliminate any problems caused by P2P apps.

The Parent File Scan software itself comes from a company called DtecNet. You download and install the software, click through a standard-looking EULA, and you’re ready to go. When you tell it to scan, it searches your hard drive for files in common audio or video formats, and for P2P apps. On my machine, it seemed to find all of the audio files (all legal). It failed to find any video files, which I think is correct. The only P2P app on my machine was an old version of Napster (which was never used to infringe). Parent File Scan failed to find Napster, but it’s worth noting that the old Napster version in question is now utterly useless.

At the end of the scan, if you have any P2P apps, Parent File Scan offers to remove them. Based on the documentation, it appears that the removal is done by invoking the P2P app’s own removal program; the documentation warns that there might not be a removal program, and it might not remove everything that came with the P2P app (i.e., spyware).

Parent File Scan also lists the audio and video files it found. It discloses very clearly (annoyingly often, in fact) that it has no way of knowing whether the files are legal or illegal. Here’s a typical message:

The program does not distinguish between legal and illegal copies. It is up to the user to determine whether the files found by the program have been acquired legally, or if the material should be deleted.

In the post-scan display, each audio/video file has a checkbox which you can check to designate the file for deletion. The default is to delete nothing. I deleted a few old files that I didn’t want anymore, and everything seemed to work correctly.

All in all, the program seems to do its job well. The user interface is clear and straightforward, and does not try to scare or mislead the user. Not everybody will want this a program like this, but those who do will probably be happy with Parent File Scan.

UPDATED (11:15 PM): Added the word “infringing” before “P2P” in the “In practice …” paragraph, to eliminate the (false) implication that all P2P downloading is illegal.

Comments

  1. Irving Reid says:

    One sentence in your article jumped out at me:

    “…there is no way to tell whether the files came from ripping the consumer’s own CDs (which is legal) or from P2P downloading (which is illegal).”

    There is nothing inherently illegal about P2P downloading. Downloading of copyrighted material, no matter what technology is used, is illegal in some jurisdictions, but it is the content, and not the transport, that makes it so.

    [Good point. I tweaked the article's language to fix this. -- EWF]

  2. Mat Hall says:

    I just tried it myself, and as a tool for parents it’s next to useless. Not only does it not identify a selection of possibly infringing filetypes (.DivX, .ogm, .dts, .vob/.ifo/.bup, etc.), a number of false positives for P2P software are being reported (HP Toolbox, IRC programs (if they’re “P2P” then so are AIM, MSN, Y!M, Outlook, IE, and so forth), and a few others).

    Blindly listing a bunch of files is no help to man nor beast — if I were a technically unsavvy parent (which I assume this is aimed at) I could have ended up wreaking havok; it identified .wav/.ogg files used by games I have installed, and I know if I were a kid I’d be mighty peed if my dad had left me needing to reinstall tons of stuff — and a parent with enough skill to sort the wheat from the chaff would also presumably be able to use the Windows search tools (which essentially is all this thing is). I wonder how much the MPAA shelled out for this thing?

    I look forward to the lawsuits brought for contributory negligence by people who have inadvertantly removed important software or deleted irreplacable personal media files!

    (I also notice that RespectCopyright.org contains the not-entirely-correct “piracy is theft” argument and contradicts itself several times — “The majority of pirated DVDs are copied from low quality camcordered masters” vs “Unlike traditional analog piracy, a digital pirated disc is as pure and pristine as the original” and other such wonders. If the MPAA/RIAA and their ilk don’t stop resorting to disinformation, using ridiculous scare tactics and spreading FUD, sooner or later no-one’s going to give a damn whether they live or die…)

    Also, from your article, “ripping the consumer’s own CDs (which is legal)” is not entirely true, and depends on your country’s particular copyright laws and definition of “fair use”. In the EU, certainly, I believe that under a strict interpretation of the EUCD it’s illegal…

  3. Roland Schulz says:

    In Fact, breaking copy protection to rip a CD to the HD is illegal in some european countries, while ripping an unprotected CD is still legal. Notice that there is no uniform European Union law like the DMCA in the US. The EU law instead decides on a framework that the member states have to implement, but wherein they have considerable room for interpretation and setting their own focus.

  4. wayne_florek says:

    System
    Requirements: Windows 98/Me/NT/2000/XP
    Well, that leaves our sever & client machines out. LOL!
    ~Daemons @ Santa Fe~ Faithfully ACKnowledging your SYNs

  5. James says:

    Does the software pick up the p2p software built into Windows XP itself?

    http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/p2p/default.mspx