Federal judge rules IP address alone not proof of copyright infringement

All too often, we hear about web users who are targeted by litigators and law enforcement agencies, and accused of downloading copyrighted material on the basis of no more evidence than an IP address. But a pivotal ruling by a federal judge may have a significant impact on future lawsuits by copyright holders. 

Those accused of infringement are frequently held to account on the basis that their IP address has been identified as having shared a pirated copy of a movie, TV show, game or other material. But as many already realise, an IP address alone does not identify the individual responsible for the download - merely the connection used for the download. 

As TorrentFreak reports, Washington District Judge Robert Lasnik understands this distinction. In considering a claim against hundreds of alleged downloaders of the movie Elf-Man, Judge Lasnik considered the complaint brought forward by the film-makers, who asserted that the defendants - identified via their IP addresses through their internet service providers under subpoena - had either downloaded a copy of the film themselves, or otherwise enabled others to download the files using their internet connection. 

But the judge disagreed with that assessment: "[The movie studio] has actually alleged no more than that the named defendants purchased Internet access and failed to ensure that others did not use that access to download copyrighted material," he stated. "Simply identifying the account holder associated with an IP address tells us very little about who actually downloaded 'Elf-Man' using that IP address."

Judge Lasnik acknowledged that it was certainly possible that each defendant was indeed the individual responsible for downloading the movie, but added that it was equally plausible that it was somebody else entirely - whether a family member, friend, or a complete stranger using the defendant's internet connection. The judge consequently granted a motion to dismiss the case. 

The ruling is significant not only for the defendants named in this specific case, but also because it firmly establishes the flimsiness of using an IP address alone as a means to bring legal action for alleged copyright infringement against individuals that cannot possibly be identified by that single piece of information. Many will be no doubt be hoping that this will lead to a reduction in 'copyright trolling', which often targets entirely innocent people

Besides, if an IP address was all you needed to determine guilt, then surely a few people from the RIAA, Department of Homeland Security, and the Vatican have some serious explaining to do. 

Source: TorrentFreak via SlashGear | image via DVD-Covers.org

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16 Comments

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Regardless of precautions taken by an individual there are plenty of wifi sniffing and breaking in software available on line. Only way one might protect oneself would be to have only cable connection in the location and have the whole place covered with Faraday cage.

So the proper way to find out who really downloaded Elf Man has now been altered slightly: now the MPAA merely has to send the IPs to the FBI first to have them determine whether probable cause exists to obtain a search warrant, and if so a seizure and search of property will ensue to first obtain more evidence of precisely who did the deed and if it was legit. If it is legit, the Feds can criminally prosecute and fine individuals, or the gathered evidence can be handed over for civil prosecution. The judge in this case is just saying that they in particular will no longer accept a case like this without there being more concrete proof of specifically who had done the misdeed, with a little more knowledge on what was on the inside computers before they allow these suits to proceed. The IP address with identifying traits is still enough to track down the accused through other means (law enforcement inspection, access to the physical hardware and networks where activity is coming from, plus a little interrogation of all those responsible for the computer/network).

Edited by nullie, Jan 25 2014, 3:08am :

Not often judges rule in favour of the normal folks when talking about the harshness of RIAA

What about precedents already set that having an open wireless router is careless and offers no protection and if it happened it made you culpable, ie you allowed it to happen. You could go back and apply what Judge Robert Lasnik summarised, even if it wasn't wireless, its not practical to watch over everyone that uses the network or your PC 24/7.

Why do I get the feeling this will be overturned like every other decision that actually benefits the people over government or corporate interests. It's never been about right or wrong, fairness or even legality, I think that's obvious. It's about media cartels getting what they want.

Yea, as of right now, this ruling doesn't mean anything. Some other Federal judge can come in and say the exact opposite.

This decision will be appealed and sent up the ladder. It could go up to the Supreme Court if it takes long enough. Pretty much we will all have to wait 2-5 years before this issue is actually settled.

Yea, I wonder if hte RIAA and MPAA will be dishing out refunds...haha, made myself laugh at that one. I wouldnt be surprised that who these entities sued, will in turn be sued by the same people.

Unfortunately for everyone who has already been busted because of this stupidity, they will get nothing from it.

Still, a very cool ruling, for a change! Maybe now, the RIAA and MPAA will come to their sense and get with the program and realize what century this is?