Bittorrent Judge Rules: You Are Not Your IP Address

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Bittorrent Judge Rules: You Are Not Your IP Address

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A court decision that IP addresses cannot be subpoenaed as people could have far-reaching effects on copyright lawsuits.

When a copyright holder wants to sue someone who it believes is illegally downloading its music/games/videos/whatever, it needs to know who it's suing first. This is usually done by sending a subpoena to the ISP that runs the local internet, effectively demanding that whoever uses the IP address in question be brought to court. The intent is never to bring them to court, of course, but to arrange a settlement for hundreds or thousands of dollars. It's an incredibly shady scheme that people have likened to extortion, but it's also somewhat successful - and over 100,000 such subpoenas went out last year in the United States alone.

That may soon change. In what could be a potentially plot-turning decision, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baker ruled that a Canadian porn company, VPR Internationale, could not subpoena IP addresses from an ISP, because an IP address did not necessarily equal a person. Given that the case in question dealt with the illegal download of adult materials, wrote Judge Baker, allowing the copyright holder to sue IP addresses rather than people could interfere with "fair" legal process.

In particular, Judge Baker cited a recent event in which law enforcement officers raided the wrong people thanks to neighbors downloading child porn on their unsecured wifi networks. With this in mind, wrote Judge Baker, how could the company be sure they were suing the right people?

"The infringer might be the subscriber, someone in the subscriber's household, a visitor with her laptop, a neighbor, or someone parked on the street at any given moment," argued Judge Baker in his decision. Perhaps more importantly, he pontificated on whether or not the legal pressure could coerce the innocent into admitting nonexistent guilt:

Orin Kerr, a professor at George Washington University Law School, noted that whether you're guilty or not, you look like a suspect. Could expedited discovery be used to wrest quick settlements, even from people who have done nothing wrong? ... the embarrassment of public exposure might be too great, the legal system too daunting and expensive, for some to ask whether the plaintiff VPR has competent evidence to prove its case.

Judge Baker concluded that he would not have his court used as a "fishing expedition" against users whose actual identities - let alone whose guilt - could not be certain.

It's unclear whether or not this will be a game-changing decision, as some have argued. Texas attorney Robert Cashman said that Judge Baker's ruling may have been "the order that may end all future John Doe lawsuits." While this decision does indeed set precedence for anti-Bittorrent cases to come, the fact that the case in question dealt with adult material may mean that other judges may be less inclined to hold it up as gospel truth.

(Via TorrentFreak)

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Strong arguments on both sides...

The anonymity of the internet is a blessing and a curse huh. Wish there was some way to effectively track the sites and pirates so they could get knocked with the fines without infringing on people.

Hm. That's definitely interesting.

I can see where the judge is coming from, and he definitely has a point there. I'm just a bit concerned that this will make pirates feel safer. But it's not worth suing regular people just to catch criminals, and I'm not sure if there's a better solution.

This ruling only makes sense, it protects the rights of the accused and all. Glad to see a Judge who has his head on straight.

this is going to be interesting. with the new copyright law that was passed here in new zealand last month, this case coudl potentially make that law useless, as under the new law content owners (read: multination corps ownign rights to music/movies) only need an ip address and after 3 warnings your internet connection can be cut. and if an ip address on its own isnt evidence of infringement, then that law is useless

An interesting decision, and one I agree with (on balance). You shouldn't be able to trawl so easily without some evidence that you actually know who you're after. Heaven forbid that people should actually have to do some legwork before they can start compiling statements of claim.

Well glad to hear I am not just some random IP that can be sued. Well thought out and looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Finally, someone who understands that hacking can easily use IP addresses that are not their own.

UltimatheChosen:
Hm. That's definitely interesting.

I can see where the judge is coming from, and he definitely has a point there. I'm just a bit concerned that this will make pirates feel safer. But it's not worth suing regular people just to catch criminals, and I'm not sure if there's a better solution.

Eh, incriminating people by IP was never aimed towards the pirates, but towards as many people they could coerce to pay out the ass, no matter their innocence. There have been at least a few "legal" firms who have been doing this, in Canada and the US, without really giving the people in question a fair chance to defend themselves.

This decision isn't going to do crap to "pirates", negative or positive, because in the grand scheme of things they'll just keep doing it regardless.

I agree with this court ruling. Would we rather have 100 fair-free people and 400 hoodlums pirating stuff out of jail...or would we want 500 people in jail no matter what they did or did not do?

That's wonderful news! Sure it can help pirates and we don't want that, but it's better to err on the side of caution. Also, most of these lawsuits are ridiculous, and I'm glad to see a stop to them. I think this will have huge ramifications, and for the better.

Fuck ya Canada. That's how you have to go about these laws, the burden of proof is on the accuser, we are innocent until proven guilty.

You really deserve compensation, have the balls to go after them face to face. And find out who the person ACTUALLY is!

Now this I like. Congratulations on a wise decision, Your Honor.

I think letting the occasional pirate slip away wins out over extorting innocent people for money.

This is wonderful news to hear. Glad that at least one Judge gets it.

Bon_Clay:
Fuck ya Canada. That's how you have to go about these laws, the burden of proof is on the accuser, we are innocent until proven guilty.

He's actually a United States District Court judge. One assumes the Canadians were suing US residents, which is why he handled the case.

Its sad that the first thing I got out of this is that we have a porn company.

legal system for the win. IP does not = person, YOU=WHO YOU ARE! no matter what you will always be unique. thank you judge, sinceraly, a masshole.

UltimatheChosen:
Hm. That's definitely interesting.

I can see where the judge is coming from, and he definitely has a point there. I'm just a bit concerned that this will make pirates feel safer. But it's not worth suing regular people just to catch criminals, and I'm not sure if there's a better solution.

Laws exist to protect citizens. Since a law such as this can be used to wrongfully incriminate people far too easily, it was a solid decision. I would imagine that, at best, it would be completely circumstantial and not point towards any one person. This way, they need to have actual evidence against a user intead of just a household.

The_root_of_all_evil:
Finally, someone who understands that hacking can easily use IP addresses that are not their own.

Unfortunately, not quite. This judge went as far as leeching, but it's unclear if he knows about IP masking. However, this ruling combined with an IT expert pointing out that IP masks are a common tactic by hackers (with an explanation as to what that is for older courts/governments, *cou-Australia-gh*) could be used to get innocent people acquitted.

Hooray Establishment of Precedent!

FlashHero:
I agree with this court ruling. Would we rather have 100 fair-free people and 400 hoodlums pirating stuff out of jail...or would we want 500 people in jail no matter what they did or did not do?

John Locke said a similar thing. It's better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man goes to jail.

Brilliant, now if only a UK judge had the balls to issue a similar decision, we may finally see an end to this lunacy. It's getting to the point now where I'm seriously considering going on a "hacking tour" of the UK politicians who advocate for brutal copyright laws, just to show them how easy it is to make it appear that someone has done something online that they have, in fact, not done.

They'd likely change their tune when it's THEIR children, THEIR elderly parents, who're being sued out the arse for downloading a Barney MP3, rather than just us proles.

OldGus:

The_root_of_all_evil:
Finally, someone who understands that hacking can easily use IP addresses that are not their own.

Unfortunately, not quite. This judge went as far as leeching, but it's unclear if he knows about IP masking. However, this ruling combined with an IT expert pointing out that IP masks are a common tactic by hackers (with an explanation as to what that is for older courts/governments, *cou-Australia-gh*) could be used to get innocent people acquitted.

Hooray Establishment of Precedent!

It's a start. The Law really needs to put some precedent into understanding the techology it's trying to legislate over because the Criminals have already got it down pat.

Wow I am not going to state my opinion on the ruling mainly because I haven't yet formulated one. I am, however, going to applaud this judge for actually doing their research and getting their background down pat rather than being pressured into giving a quick decision.

John Funk:

Bon_Clay:
Fuck ya Canada. That's how you have to go about these laws, the burden of proof is on the accuser, we are innocent until proven guilty.

He's actually a United States District Court judge. One assumes the Canadians were suing US residents, which is why he handled the case.

Psssst, John. It seems you've multi-posted this thread. >,>

Rayne870:
Its sad that the first thing I got out of this is that we have a porn company.

If there's one constant throughout the world, its that people like boobies. And booze.

OT: This. This I like. Props to the judge. This ruling will probably be appealed though, hopefully the next judge sides with the current ruling.

Were IP address alone to convict, I thought they were mearly needed to know who's PCs you were intending to check for the illegal materials, an IP address alone shouldn't have been enough to dispel reasonable doubt surely?

The internet continues to change everything... an incredible tool and an incredible weapon. We're gonna need to really rethink our society soon

That's a bit more reasonable, especially if it catches on. Being able to threaten to sue someone, with only an IP address as evidence, hoping that the threat of bankrupting them in court will be enough to extort a settlement is a horrific practice, not sure how they've been allowed to get away with it, really.

Does tat say Orin KERR? Fucking right!!!

Irridium:

Rayne870:
Its sad that the first thing I got out of this is that we have a porn company.

If there's one constant throughout the world, its that people like boobies. And booze.

OT: This. This I like. Props to the judge. This ruling will probably be appealed though, hopefully the next judge sides with the current ruling.

You speak the truth!

Sort of related to the topic, I wonder how this goes with something I read earlier about the advantage of not securing your wireless because it makes you less liable for things downloaded via your network.

can I link stuff like this...i dunno, apologies if im not allowed.

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/01/my_open_wireles.html

The_root_of_all_evil:

OldGus:

The_root_of_all_evil:
Finally, someone who understands that hacking can easily use IP addresses that are not their own.

Unfortunately, not quite. This judge went as far as leeching, but it's unclear if he knows about IP masking. However, this ruling combined with an IT expert pointing out that IP masks are a common tactic by hackers (with an explanation as to what that is for older courts/governments, *cou-Australia-gh*) could be used to get innocent people acquitted.

Hooray Establishment of Precedent!

It's a start. The Law really needs to put some precedent into understanding the techology it's trying to legislate over because the Criminals have already got it down pat.

Ok, agreed. However, that's probably been true ever since centuries after people switched from killing people with rocks to killing people with stone tools (i.e. sharper rocks.)

John Funk:

While this decision does indeed set precedence for anti-Bittorrent cases to come, the fact that the case in question dealt with adult material may mean that other judges may be less inclined to hold it up as gospel truth.

Why? Is adult material not protected property? Are accusations of piracy to be handled with less or more gravity if they come from an adult media company? I don't see how it could be argued that tracking IPs in porno pirate cases is any different than other media piracy or even in hacking cases. "An IP is not a person" shouldn't be, from my admittedly only lightly informed perspective, contingent on who is accusing it or what the IP is accused of.

Baresark:

FlashHero:
I agree with this court ruling. Would we rather have 100 fair-free people and 400 hoodlums pirating stuff out of jail...or would we want 500 people in jail no matter what they did or did not do?

John Locke said a similar thing. It's better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man goes to jail.

It's a pity false conviction statistics suggest about 5-10% of all people in prison are innocent of any crime...

westx207:

John Funk:

While this decision does indeed set precedence for anti-Bittorrent cases to come, the fact that the case in question dealt with adult material may mean that other judges may be less inclined to hold it up as gospel truth.

Why? Is adult material not protected property? Are accusations of piracy to be handled with less or more gravity if they come from an adult media company? I don't see how it could be argued that tracking IPs in porno pirate cases is any different than other media piracy or even in hacking cases. "An IP is not a person" shouldn't be, from my admittedly only lightly informed perspective, contingent on who is accusing it or what the IP is accused of.

Because you're dealing with material which is more tightly restricted than it might have been otherwise, and this can vary not just between countries but between individual states. A lawyer might have success arguing that this only replies to restricted material.

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