US Judge: an IP address is not a person

By on May 5, 2011, 3:31 PM

In what could be a landmark decision, US Judge Harold Baker has ruled that an IP address is not adequate evidence to pin a crime on someone. For years, the recording industry has sued individuals for copyright infringement based solely on their IP address. This reached a new level when lawyers began collaborating with independent filmmakers to attack large quantities of suspected BitTorrent pirates.

The lawyers logged the IPs of anyone sharing a specific item over BitTorrent. They'd get a court to force ISPs to reveal the account holders behind those IP addresses and those individuals would receive a letter requesting threatening legal action. The alleged pirates could pay a settlement fee ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, or risk being hauled to court for $150,000 plus legal fees.

Naturally, lawyers don't actually want to pursue legal action, they're just hoping to scare people into paying the settlement. This tactic has been against tens of thousands of pirates in the last year or so. In a similar case (VPR Internationale v. Does 1-1017), a Canadian adult film company sought a court's backing to demand customer data from ISPs -- a request declined by Judge Harold Baker.

Baker ruled that IP addresses do not equal persons and cited a recent child pornagraphy case where US authorities raided the wrong people because the true offenders were piggybacking on their wireless connection. "The infringer might be the subscriber, someone in the subscriber's household, a visitor with her laptop, a neighbor, or someone parked on the street at any given moment," he said.

Cases involving pornography are especially delicate because the accused party might feel pressured into quick settlements in fear of the embarrassment that would follow if the case received public exposure. Baker said the court wouldn't support "fishing expeditions" for users' information without evidence that it has jurisdiction over the defendants. Hopefully this decision will prevent future shakedowns.

At least one lawyer believes it will. Robert Cashman, a Texas attorney who represents defendants in similar cases, said "we may have just seen the order that may end all future John Doe lawsuits." "I have no doubt this ruling is the first of many to come, where the judges stop the plaintiff in their tracks by denying them access to the ISPs' subscriber records before a single subpoena is issued," he added.




User Comments: 21

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Darkshadoe Darkshadoe said:

:Baker ruled that IP addresses do not equal persons and cited a recent child pornography case where US authorities raided the wrong people because the true offenders were piggybacking on their wireless connection. "The infringer might be the subscriber, someone in the subscriber's household, a visitor with her laptop, a neighbor, or someone parked on the street at any given moment," he said."

Thank goodness one Judge in this world has some common sense.

bandit8623 said:

this is good news!

treetops treetops said:

Meh its like a license plate number.

treetops treetops said:

Actually its more like a ip adress.

9Nails, TechSpot Paladin, said:

We finally found a Judge who understands something dealing with technology! I say promote this enlightened individual to the Supreme Court so he can help make this decision stick for good.

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Darn, now nobody will fall for those IP Freely jokes.

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Suck it MPAA!

TeamworkGuy2 said:

9Nails said:

We finally found a Judge who understands something dealing with technology! I say promote this enlightened individual to the Supreme Court so he can help make this decision stick for good.

Bravo!!!

Judges are good, enlighted people, but studying law books rarely relates to real life, especially when the law books are 100+ years old.

Good to see a judge who bases decisions on current situations.

aj_the_kidd said:

Just to play devils advocate, i would argue that the majority of the time an IP address can be linked to an individual. Though that being said, the big time pirates that the anti-piracy organizations are after, would know this and have ways around it.

Superpeter Superpeter said:

Finally, someone figured it out (or had enough power and said it out loud) Great news!!

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

TeamworkGuy2 said:

9Nails said:

We finally found a Judge who understands something dealing with technology! I say promote this enlightened individual to the Supreme Court so he can help make this decision stick for good.

Bravo!!!

Judges are good, enlighted people, but studying law books rarely relates to real life, especially when the law books are 100+ years old.

Good to see a judge who bases decisions on current situations.

They may be 'knowledgeable' but not all of them are good or enlighted, I remember reading Judge Edith H. Jones of the U.S. Court of Appeals saying somewhere (and I actually was bothered enough to find that article so I could quote :p) that:

"The American legal system has been corrupted almost beyond recognition, the question of what is morally right is routinely sacrificed to what is politically expedient."

"The legal aristocracy have shed their professional independence for the temptations and materialism associated with becoming businessmen. Because law has become a self-avowed business, pressure mounts to give clients the advice they want to hear, to pander to the clients' goal through deft manipulation of the law. . While the business mentality produces certain benefits, like occasional competition to charge clients lower fees, other adverse effects include advertising and shameless self-promotion. The legal system has also been wounded by lawyers who themselves no longer respect the rule of law.

The law itself is becoming more fragmented, more subjective, geared more to expediency and less to morality. . "

Now that doesn't mean there aren't any 'honest / sensible' lawyers / judgest out there, there are, and probably he is one of them.

Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Just a thought, when IPv6 is in full swing, because their are such a substantial amount of addresses possible, surely everyone in the world would just be given a statc IP? of which would make it easier to track people? than again, you can just spoof an address I suppose... Just thinking out loud

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Which brings us back to the original point, that IP can't be treated as 'a legal person', hence, IPv6 doesn't matter just as well. There is a saying which if translated to english would mean something like "trying to catch fish in water with your bare hands" ...... these type of John Doe cases are about the same thing in my view.

veLa veLa said:

Very good news. Everyone resume their piracy.

MilwaukeeMike said:

This actually happened to me! I was the registered user for our cable broadband at college and was contacted by the campus IT department because a recording studio had contacted them about pirated material being shared. It was my roommate, but I got the nasty email. (he stopped, everyone was happy).

This is good news as any criminal worth his salt should be smart enough to find someone else's IP to use when committing crimes. However, I do hope they still use IP to narrow it down. We had a case here in WI were a pedophile was caught because he actually brought his PC in for repairs without taking the child p0rn off it. They're not all smart.

stewi0001 stewi0001 said:

Hurray for brain usage! Seriously any computer nerd know that people can even fake thier IP address or, as was stated, tap into someone elses wireless network. Now I do not agree with piracy or "adult films" but you have to take into the account of these risks unless you pull the plug and be completely disconnected.

So an IP address is not a person, but is it a noun!? o.O"

Relic Relic, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

While I'm a bit skeptical that this will end authorities/corporations from coming after the IP subscriber, it's defiantly a step in the right direction in protecting them.

pmshah said:

"to attack large quantities of suspected BitTorrent pirates.'"

My, my !! Internet English language is really deteriorating.

Since when did the human number measure change to "quantity" ?

BTW only time a person responsible for piracy can be other than the account holder is if he connected through wifi. Breaking into a system through hardwire is practically impossible.

Guest said:

or if you get a trojan.. which never happens, so you get to be right.

Guest said:

They should be required to grab both the IP address and dns hostname used in the request. This would be used to confirm the actual computer being used...

Guest said:

hopefully half this stuff will stop becoming an issue as more and more people from 1990s generation reach positions of lawyers and judges.

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