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IP Address Can't Be Used To Identify Individuals, Judge Rules

Posted by: , 18:35 EST, Fri May 4, 2012

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A New York district court judge clearly spells out the case against using IP addresses to identify pirates, and urges other judges to throw out mass copyright lawsuits that are a "waste of judicial resources"
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Image/Photo Credit: Sam Howzit @ Flickr, CC

In what could turn out to be a landmark ruling, a New York district court judge has lambasted the use of IP addresses as identification evidence, especially in mass copyright lawsuits, which he also called a "waste of judicial resources."

Making the ruling in a BitTorrent lawsuit involving the alleged download of a pornographic video, Judge Gary Brown also urged other judges to reject similar cases in the future.

But on the issue of identification based solely on IP address evidence, Judge Brown clearly spelt out the case against linking an the subscriber that leases the IP address, to the person or persons who actually committed the infringing action.

"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," Judge brown wrote in his ruling.

"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."

Judge Brown also made the observation that the popularity of Wi-Fi routers meant that has now made it much harder to link an IP address to the actual individual that committed the infringement. 

"While a decade ago, home wireless networks were nearly non-existent, 61% of US homes now have wireless access. As a result, a single IP address usually supports multiple computer devices – which unlike traditional telephones can be operated simultaneously by different individuals," Judge Brown added.

"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."

The ruling mirrors one made in Italy, where also in a piracy case, the judge there ruled that IP addresses alone are insufficient to identify the pirate. And last year in the UK, a judge also questioned the tactics employed by one of the country's most notorious mass copyright law firms, also questioning the use of IP address evidence for identification purposes.


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