US judge finds that IP addresses cannot be used to identify infringers

Magistrate Judge Gary Brown has produced an interesting document in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York involving four lawsuits regarding so-called copyright trolls, porn producers who sue lots of users based on IP address evidence. The ruling states:

“The complaints assert that the defendants – identified only by IP address – were the individuals who downloaded the subject “work” and participated in the BitTorrent swarm. However, 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. 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.

Indeed, due to the increasingly popularity of wireless routers, it much less likely. While a decade ago, home wireless networks were nearly non-existent, 61% of US homes now have wireless access.5 Several of the ISPs at issue in this case provide a complimentary wireless router as part of Internet service. As a result, a single IP address usually supports multiple computer devices – which unlike traditional telephones can be operated simultaneously by different individuals. […]  Different family members, or even visitors, could have performed the alleged downloads. 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 and download the plaintiff’s film.”

How refreshing to read a technically accurate and astute legal decision. More please!

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