Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

Summary: Mass lawsuits of copyright violators based solely on Internet Protocol addresses hits a legal roadblock.


"I am not an IP number, I am a free man!" OK, so that's not exactly what actor Patrick McGoohan said in the classic TV show, The Prisoner, but Number 6 would have agreed that people aren't numbers, and they certainly aren't their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. And, now a U.S. District Court has ruled that an IP address is not the same thing as a person's identification.

This current decision came about because of a recent wave of copyright owners filing approximately 100,000 lawsuits against file sharers based on their IP addresses. Mind you, the organizations, such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) know that lawsuits don't actually stop file piracy. In a recent statement to the Commerce Department these groups and their allies wrote, "The role of lawsuits in solving the online theft problem is clearly limited "For instance, bringing clear-cut claims against major commercial infringers is not by itself a solution in the long run. These cases take years to litigate and are an enormous resource drain."

That hasn't stopped them though from suing file-sharing services, such as Lime Wire for, I kid you not, $75 trillion in damages. This recent wave of lawsuits isn't about taking a leading file-sharing service out behind the barn for a whipping. No, this recent lawsuit flood was designed to scare individual file sharers using services such as BitTorrent from sharing files.

One of their main tools, using IP addresses as unique personal identification tools, has just been ruled out in the case, VPR Internationale v. Does 1-1017. U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baker ruled that VPR, a Canadian adult film company, couldn't subpoena ISPs for the personal information connected to their subscribers' IP addresses. His logic was that just because an activity has been conducted from a specific IP-address doesn't mean that the IP address' owner has actually done anything wrong.

As Judge Baker wrote, "In this case, not a single one of the plaintiff's 1.017 potential adversaries has been identified. … Moreover, VPR ignores the fact that IP subscribers are not necessarily copyright infringers." He also said that even when the ISP does provide an IP address' subscriber information that the subscriber may not be guilty of any crime.

In his decision, Baker cited the recent example of Federal agents arresting a couple and seizing their computer, iPhones, and iPads for child porn only to find out later that it was a neighbor who had used their Wi-Fi connection to download the illegal material. This kind of situation, where someone is arrested for what's done without their knowledge or consent with their network connection, is not uncommon.

While Judge Baker's decision will make it harder for copyright owners and their organizations to take a "guilty until proven innocent" approach, there's another lesson here too. You need to secure your Wi-Fi connection. Sure, anyone piggy-backing on your Wi-Fi connection is probably just using it to check their e-mail, but there's that one time in a thousand where they may be doing some illegal and it will be you, not them, explaining to a court that it wasn't you who downloaded am illegal copy of The Hurt Locker.

Related Stories:

Mass US copyright lawsuits to reach 100,000 mark

Lime Wire's day of reckoning is here

Take Wi-Fi Security Seriously

Topics: Networking, Browser, Legal

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  • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

    No you need to open your wifi internet connection, so that the mixture of data is from all sorts of local devices, phones, laptops and stuff. By opening our routers, while at the same time implementing firewalls between the wireless side of our network and our internal private net, we provide public service. Just like the light from our house lights spilling into the street to help people in the dark see where they are going. More stuff works more places when more routers are open. The challenge is to be less greedy, you can't save packets you never sent, and more sharing with the world. The part B of the challenge is for router makers to build firewalls between the public and private side of the firewall, or to run dual IP ranges with one secured and firewall-ed and the other open.
    • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

      @jamesm@... This is already available. More and more wireless routers have a secured wireless channel and a "guest" channel.
      • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

        Pretty cool, I don't mind sharing internet so we all have access everywhere but have been nervous about security. It has also been in the news that ISP's are beginning to cap data usage, so I might not be so generous in the future. :)
    • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

      @jamesm@... sharing the light...<br><br>Actually having lights around your house that shine out into other people's areas is referred to as Light Trespass and is a problem, not a solution. Personally, I don't want your light shining into my bedroom. And the glare from unshielded lights actually makes walking at night less safe. Our eyes adjust to the brightness and then we can't see what may be in the shadows.<br><br>As for giving away Internet access, go pay for your own Internet. My wifi is not a charity.
      • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people


        Your problem is with improperly designed lighting. Well designed lighting will light an area without creating a glare problem. Veiling illuminence is also a potential problem. So is high level localized illumination. All of these are addressed in the proposed ordinance that the Dark Sky group advocates. As a lighting professional, and later, a City reviewer I have extensively dealt with this problem.

        But, public spaces DO need to be lit. We pay for street lights for a reason. Moderate lighting from private property can help the public.

        I think this is directly applicable to this discussion. I do not support the copying of commercial material, but I do think that copyright terms are insane. A reasonable term would be less than 20 years. After that, the work is paid for, as is the Artist (actually, a work has generally made 90% of what it will ever make after 5 years). If they want to keep getting paid, then keep working like the rest of us do.

        Long copyright terms are just another corporate monopoly abusing the public (that's you and me). I ran an open wifi for years. It wasn't a problem until my son moved back in. Then, bandwidth dropped to a crawl. He insisted that it was a neighbor, but WEP didn't change the problem. We had to up the data plan to fix the problem. I guess the 24/7 online wargaming had an impact.
    • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

      @jamesm@... I think you are right! BTW DD-WRT firmware loads can do virtual AP on the same wifi channel and have them isolated from your home net.
    • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

      @jamesm@... Why would I want people using my bandwidth? I'd prefer to keep my bandwidth to myself instead of having someone else using what I pay money for.

      I share my internet with my roommates, and that's about it.
      • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

        Its a community thing, you share your internet and when you are away from home you might be able to share someone else's.
    • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

      Well no S, the courts are captain obvious. But I guess you need to make it official to keep cops in check.
    • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people


      Millions of free WiFi hotspots around the world, in exchange for a little of your bandwidth in a secure manner.

      One finger to the Robber Baron CellCo's.
  • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

    I thought calling up an IP address would only indicate you local area, and nothing more . Please advise all of us.
    • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

      @solivagant will give you the IP address space owner, which in turn can be traced to the subscriber who was assigned that IP if the owner can be given the exact time and date of the incident.
    • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

      @solivagant In general, an IP address will give you a broad area. But, the ISP can't nail it down to your exact address.

      • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people


        yes, they can, and have before under court orders and search warrants.

        most ISPs maintain a log which address was connected to what IP address, particularly in broadband/DSL/cable, where a specific MAC address often must be "activated" on the ISP's network before the connection will even work
      • say what?

        @sjvn@... The cable modem has a unique MAC lika any other layer 2 device. When I pick one up from the ISP they mark it down as applying to my billing account. MAC + IP = positive ID of at least the name and address on the account.

        I realize some ISPs NAT segments, if that's the case then yes, you're only traceable down to the neighborhood. But my ISP gives me a world routable address, and it hasn't changed in 6 or so years now.
    • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

      @solivagant An IP does only indicate an area and not necessarily a specific computer. Cafes - Libraries etc will all show the same IP to outside world
      • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people


        Bingo. Another thing: what if someone has hacked into another person's wireless network? What if the person in question runs a 'unsecured' wireless router to share with other people?
        Need I keep on going. Court finally got it right here.
      • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people


        Thats because the CAFE is using a NAT router. It is still traceable right up to that router.

        ISPs know what customer account has been leased a given IP at any given time. Thats inherent in DHCP leasing. Otherwise you would lose your IP every time your router reset.

        That the customer is running a NAT router at that IP and multi-plexing it to many computers on their lAN is irrellevent. The customer is responsible for all usage of that external IP. Read your terms of service.
  • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

    Actually, what this means is that if you want to do something illegal, use someone else's internet connection!
    • RE: Court rules Internet IP addresses are not people

      Not necessarily illegal, think of people in Iran that want to organize without having government thugs dragging them off.