The way the RIAA finds those who illegally share music on college networks turns out to be not much different to how one goes about searching for music on file sharing networks. Going by a demonstration an anonymous RIAA employee gave as a private demonstration, the RIAA first starts by providing Media Sentry a list of songs it has distribution rights over. Media Sentry, a company the RIAA hires to catch those sharing its music then searches file sharing networks, such as LimeWire for the songs and takes note of all the matches it returns.
For each result that is returned, Media Sentry then tries scanning that host for any other music suspect of copyright infringement. It checks each song by comparing its digital fingerprints against those provided by the RIAA. For any that mismatch, it then tries comparing the sound waves to see if the songs match this time. Finally, if this fails to show an exact match, someone will physically listen to each song that fails both tests to determine whether it is a copyright infringing song or just something else with this suspicious title. Once a song has been verified to be an infringing song, they will attempt to connect to the host to determine whether it is online. Finally, it provides the RIAA with the list of files, which hosts they were shared from as well as the time and date it caught each.
The RIAA sends a letter to each college with a list of file names along with the date and time they were found being shared from their network, asking each college to remove all the infringing from their network. From time to time, the RIAA sends out what the RIAA employee calls "prelitigation settlement letters" to the individual students found illegally sharing its content, demanding a several thousand dollar settlement or face going to court. For each student the RIAA intends suing, it will download the music first to verify they are copyright infringing.