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Court slaps down the use of IP addresses in file-sharing cases

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Gary R. Brown hits back at media companies using Internet Protocol addresses to identify users for lawsuits.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The MPAA, RIAA and other copyright holding companies have long used Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to identify users for their lawsuits. They'll find that people at various IP addresses have used BitTorrent or some other peer-to-peer (P2P) service seem to have downloaded copyrighted video or music and then sic their lawyer attack dogs on them. They may not be so quick to unleash the hounds though after they read U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Gary R. Brown's Order & Report & Recommendation (ORR).

As first reported by Fight Copyright Trolls, a legal news and opinion blog that follows Internet copyright issues Judge Brown wrote that accusing someone of stealing copyrighted material purely on the basis of an IP address is simply wrong. Brown noted that 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.”

He continued, “[M]ost, if not all, of the IP addresses will actually reflect a wireless router or other networking device, meaning that while the ISPs will provide the name of its subscriber, the alleged infringer could be the subscriber, a member of his or her family, an employee, invitee, neighbor or interloper.”

Therefore, Judge Brown recommends that the plaintiffs, the copyright holders, in these cases a pair of pornography companies, “have employed abusive litigations tactics to extract settlements from John Doe defendants. Indeed, this may be the principal purpose of these actions, and these tactics distinguish these plaintiffs from other copyright holders with whom they repeatedly compare themselves.” Further '[t]he Federal Rules direct the Court to deny discovery “to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1). This situation cries out for such relief.'”

He then threw out their cases. If they want to try again he wrote that “any future actions of a similar nature in this district be filed as separate actions as against each John Doe defendant, so as to avoid unfair outcomes, improper joinder and waste of judicial resources, and to ensure the proper payment of filing fees.”

Why this is especially bitter to copyright trolls is that while other judges don't have to follow his recommendations, they should take note of the ORR. This should put, we can but hope, a considerable dent on mass copyright lawsuits using only an IP address and a BitTorrent trail as evidence.

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