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UK Judge Looks At Key Copyright Lawsuit Issues, IP Address And Authorization

Posted by: , 17:12 AEDT, Tue February 15, 2011

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An UK judge is asking all the right questions in a copyright case which could have serious implications for those engaged in mass copyright lawsuits

It seems notorious UK piracy law firm, ACS:Law, has stirred up a hornet's nest that could effectively end the practice of mass lawsuits, at least in the UK, even though the firm itself has already called it quits.

Judge Birss presiding over the case of MediaCAT Limited versus 27 defendants has asked several questions, questions that critics of mass copyright lawsuits have often asked as well, that puts in jeopardy any legal basis for extracting pre-trial settlement fees from alleged downloaders. 

The issue relates mainly to the issue of "authorization", and whether leaving one's Wi-Fi unsecured counts as authorization. The copyright lobby and the law firms that profit from copyright law thinks it is, while Judge Birss is not too convinced:

Then there is the question of whether leaving an Internet connection "unsecured" opens up the door to liability for infringement by others piggy backing on the connection unbeknownst to the owner. Finally, what does "unsecured" mean? Wireless routers have different levels of security available and if the level of security is relevant to liability—where is the line to be drawn? No case has decided these issues but they are key to the claimant's ability to... say—one way or another there is infringement here.

Another issue is with IP addresses, and it's best summed up in the judge's own words:

All the IP address identifies is an internet connection, which is likely today to be a wireless home broadband router. All Media CAT's monitoring can identify is the person who has the contract with their ISP to have internet access. Assuming a case in Media CAT's favour that the IP address is indeed linked to wholesale infringements of the copyright in question... Media CAT do not know who did it and know that they do not know who did it.

In other words, an IP address is not proof that a *person* has committed any crimes, it is only proof that the same connection was used. 

With the judge asking all the right questions (or wrong questions, from ACS:Law/MediaCat's point of view), the verdict in this case could have serious implications for all the other law firms intent on making money from mass copyright lawsuits.

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