This past year has seen a surge of copyright infringement cases where copyright holders have brought suits against not one, but hundreds or even thousands of defendants. These kinds of wide sweeping cases are highly controversial, and, according to TorrentFreak opponents have even gone so far as to call these types of cases as "extortion".
The main reason for the controversy is that rights-holders are acquiring lists of IP addresses that connect to, download, and/or share illegal files that they own the original copyright for. They are then bringing lawsuits against the so called John Does listed in the IP addresses, and using legal subpoenas to force ISPs to release personal information of the account holder(s) connected to that IP at the times the IP address was logged downloading and/or sharing their files. While many may not realize the flaw in this logic, it seems as though a District Court judge by the name of Harold Baker has questioned the legality and implications of assuming an IP address is grounds enough to obtain further personal information.
The issue of connecting solely an IP address to a person is that while a log with an IP address along with specific dates and times can be connected to an ISP’s subscriber and their Internet connection, there is no way to know that it was that particular person who represented that IP address in that matter. It could just as easily have been another person living in the household, a friend or visitor who used the wireless connection, or a malicious individual piggy-backing on that subscriber’s Internet connection (and thus the IP address).
TorrentFreak reports that “Judge Baker cited a recent child porn case where the U.S. authorities raided the wrong people, because the real offenders were piggybacking on their Wi-Fi connections.” They also state that Judge Baker believes that these types of cases, particularly when it involves adult entertainment, assuming an IP address is enough material to subpoena for further personally identifiable information could obstruct a “‘fair’ legal process.” This is because, bringing a suit against someone by connecting them to solely an IP address, especially when it involves adult entertainment, could irreparably defame an innocent persons character.
Judge Baker goes on to say that rights-holders could potentially use the delicate issue of the accusation of allegedly sharing adult material to encourage even innocent people to settle out of court. TorrentFreak reports that “Baker conlcudes [sic] by saying that his Court is not supporting a “fishing expedition” for subscribers’ details if there is no evidence that it has jurisdiction over the defendants.”
There is no question that Judge Baker’s ruling could potentially change the landscape of bit torrent related lawsuits throughout the United States. Rights-holders are no doubt going to aggressively combat this ruling; however, civil rights groups and countless innocent people are rejoicing at the knowledge that it may very well be the beginning of the end for John Doe bit torrent lawsuits in the Unite States.
Image courtesy MikeBlogs via Flickr (creative commons 2.0 w/attribution).