An IP Address Isn’t a Person

A common method used by copyright holders to sue file sharers is to file John Doe lawsuits against IP addresses. This type of lawsuit has always been on shaky ground in my opinion and it appears as through a District Judge has decided that shaky ground was falling apart:

A possible landmark ruling in one of the mass-BitTorrent lawsuits in the U.S. may spell the end of the “pay-up-or-else-schemes” that have targeted over 100,000 Internet users in the last year. District Court Judge Harold Baker has denied a copyright holder the right to subpoena the ISPs of alleged copyright infringers, because an IP-address does not equal a person.

This is a great ruling because of the simple fact that having somebody’s IP address is in no way proof that said person was actually committing a violation against copyright holders. For example if you have an unencrypted or weakly encrypted wireless network it would be trivial for somebody to connect to it and start downloading movies illegally. When the copyright holders get a list of IP addresses that downloaded said movie illegally yours would be one on the list. Thus the lawsuit would be failed against the IP address holder, yourself. As you can see though just because the IP address traces back to you doesn’t imply any proof that you committed the crime. In fact this exact scenario has played out before:

In the case VPR Internationale v. Does 1-1017, the judge denied the Canadian adult film company access to subpoena ISPs for the personal information connected to the IP-addresses of their subscribers. The reason? IP-addresses do not equal persons, and especially in ‘adult entertainment’ cases this could obstruct a ‘fair’ legal process.

Among other things Judge Baker cited a recent child porn case where the U.S. authorities raided the wrong people, because the real offenders were piggybacking on their Wi-Fi connections. Using this example, the judge claims that several of the defendants in VPR’s case may have nothing to do with the alleged offense either.

This ruling is just but I bet money that a long process of appeals will be going down until VPR Internationale is able to buy find a judge more sympathetic to their crusade cause. For now though it’s good to see there is at least one judge out there with some common sense on this issue.