Just because your home computer’s IP address was linked to online piracy doesn’t mean you did anything illegal — it could have easily been someone else squatting on your line.
This argument — long used by savvy Web goers against so-called “copyright trolls,” companies who make money by filing mass lawsuits against people whose IP addresses are linked to BitTorrent downloads — will soon be put to the test in court for the first time in the United States.
The case centers around known copyright troll Malibu Media, an adult entertainment company, which has filed 349 mass lawsuits against thousands of Web users in the U.S. Malibu files these suits with no intention of taking those target to court. Instead, it often settles with defendants for between $1,000 and $5,000. Do this more than 100,000 times, and you end up with a hefty chunk of change.
This money-making tactic, which a California District judge condemned earlier this year as “essentially an extortion scheme,” soon faces a fateful battle in a Pennsylvania District Court, reports Fight Copyright Trolls, a website cited in the case. On October 3, Judge Michael Baylson selected five defendants who challenged Malibu’s lawsuits to take part in a Bellwether trial, which is used to set precedent for similar mass legal actions that burden the courts. The outcome of this case is expressly intended to guide future courts’ decisions in similar cases.
One of the John Does targeted by Malibu filed a declaration against the company’s attempts to gain access to his/her identity through third-party subpoena to the defendant’s Internet service provider (ISP). In the declaration, John Doe #1 asserted that Malibu misrepresents the technological properties of BitTorrent, as well as those of wireless routers. And, in turn, argues that using IP addresses as evidence of wrongdoing should not withstand legal scrutiny.
“Among other things, the declaration asserts that Plaintiff has brought suit against numerous unnamed defendants simply to extort settlements, that the BitTorrent software does not work in the manner Plaintiff alleges, and that a mere subscriber to an ISP is not necessarily a copyright infringer, with explanations as to how computer-based technology would allow non-subscribers to access a particular IP address,” writes Judge Baylson in a memorandum. “In other words, according to the declaration, there is no reason to assume an ISP subscriber is the same person who may be using BitTorrent to download the alleged copyrighted material.”
Judge Baylson has set the date for the Bellwether trial for April 2, 2013. Given the potential for this case to jam a stick in the spokes of copyright trolls across the U.S., we’ll be sure to keep you updated on how this one plays out.
See Judge Baylson’s full memorandum below: