IP address not enough to identify online pirates, judge rules

Ethernet IP address

Hollywood is not going to be happy about this one. A New York judge has ruled that an IP address alone is not enough to prove that a particular person downloaded files illegally, reports TorrentFreak. The “landmark case” could have potentially devastating effects on a number of “mass-BitTorrent” lawsuits currently taking place around the country.

In his ruling on an infringement case involving the illegal downloading of an adult film, New York Magistrate Judge Gary Brown says that copyright infringement cases that provide only an IP address as evidence of who made the illegal download(s) are a “waste of judicial resources.”

“The assumption that the person who pays for Internet access at a given location is the same individual who allegedly downloaded a single sexually explicit film is tenuous, and one that has grown more so over time,” writes Brown. “An IP address provides only the location at which one of any number of computer devices may be deployed, much like a telephone number can be used for any number of telephones.”

“Thus, it is no more likely that the subscriber to an IP address carried out a particular computer function — here the purported illegal downloading of a single pornographic film — than to say an individual who pays the telephone bill made a specific telephone call,” Brown continues.

Brown adds that, because a majority (61 percent) of US homes now have wireless Internet access, IP address along provides even more tenuous evidence than a telephone line does.

“Different family members, or even visitors,” could be responsible for an illegal download, writes Brown. “Unless the wireless router has been appropriately secured (and in some cases, even if it has been secured), neighbors or passersby could access the Internet using the IP address assigned to a particular subscriber…”

Of course, those of you reading this with even the most basic understanding of how IP addresses and wireless networks work already knew all of this. What makes Brown’s conclusion remarkable — sadly — is that someone in power actually used facts and common sense in the matter, rather than simply siding with the copyright holder, carte blanche.

In addition to affecting countless copyright infringement lawsuits, Brown’s ruling could also provide a legal basis against the upcoming “six strikes” plan that Internet service providers (ISPs) will implement by this summer. The anti-piracy plan, which was concocted by the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and is backed by the nation’s largest ISPs (AT&T, Verizon, Cablevison, Comcast, Time Warner Cable), could result in Internet subscribers suffering severe bandwidth throttling if their IP addresses are identified by copyright holders as linked to illegal downloads.

Brown’s ruling is definitely a win for the Internet and common sense. Here’s hoping it will stick.

Image via Tan Kian Khoon/Shutterstock

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