US judge rules IP address does not prove online piracy

from A US federal judge in Washington wrote that a suspected internet
pirate should not be prosecuted solely because his computer’s IP address
was identified by a film studio.
The landmark opinion may tip the
fortunes of defendants in similar situations.

The Hollywood executives behind the movie ‘Elf Man’ filed a
lawsuit against hundreds of people, alleging that they were
guilty of copyright infringement because their internet protocol
(IP) address was found to have illegally downloaded the film. An
IP address can be likened to a computer’s online fingerprint;
each is unique to the machine it originates from. 

Copyright holders seeking to take offenders to court often put
fake movie files online, record the hundreds or thousands of IP
addresses that download it, and then provide that information to
the courts in an attempt to identify and sue hapless users on the
other side of the screen. 

The studio argued that “the defendants either (a) downloaded
the pirated film themselves, or (b) permitted, facilitated, or
promoted the use of their Internet connections by others to
download the film,” according to TorrentFreak. 

Washington District Judge Robert Lasnik said this week that the
rationale is insufficient, in part because it begins with the
assumption of guilt. Ruling on a motion to dismiss the claim,
Lasnik sided with the defendants because the conditions described
in complaint section b were overly vague. 

“[The movie studio] has actually alleged no more than the
named defendants purchased Internet access and failed to ensure
that others did not use that access to download copyrighted
material,” the judge wrote. 

Lasnik also said that there was no proof that the person who
could wind up facing a lawsuit was in fact the person who chose
to download the copy of ‘Elf Man.’ 

“Simply identifying the account holder associated with an IP
address tells us very little about who actually downloaded ‘Elf
Man’ using that IP address,” he wrote. “While it is
possibly that the subscriber is the one who participated in the
BitTorrent swarm, it is also possible that a family member,
guest, or freeloader engaged in the infringing conduct.” 

Other judges presiding over similar cases in the past have agreed
with Lasnik, creating a precedent that has required copyright
enforcers to narrow down their list of suspects before attempting
to launch a case. 

Last year, a Sydney-based law firm revealed that courts in both
Australia and the US have refused to turn over personal details
of internet users who downloaded content without permission. 

“For example, in an office or at home, where there is a WiFi
connection, only one IP address will be allocated to that
wireless connection.
This means that every user of each device
(computer, iPad, iPhone, etc) connected to that WiFi connection
will use the same IP address. Even a random passerby accessing
the WiFi network would be using the same IP address,”

lawyers from Marque Lawyers wrote, as quoted by TorrentFreak. 

“This decision makes a lot of sense to us If it holds up,
copyright owners will need to be a whole lot more savvy about how
they identify and pursue copyright infringers and, perhaps, we’ve
seen the end of the mass ‘John Doe’ litigation.”

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