Judge Says An IP Address Is Not Enough To Identify A Movie Pirate

Since the dawn of online piracy, media companies have been serving subpoenas on Internet service providers to try to compel them to match up IP addresses of alleged pirates with the names on the accounts tied to those IP addresses. Unless the ISPs put up a fight, courts frequently grant these subpoenas, but one federal judge in Florida has said that a mere IP address is not sufficient to identify someone as a pirate.

In March, the makers of the documentary Manny, a film about Filipino boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, filed a complaint [PDF] with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The lawsuit identifies only a single John Doe defendant who allegedly violated the filmmakers’ copyright by downloading and sharing the film via BitTorrent. The only identifier used for the defendant is an IP address.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the only lawsuit being filed by producers of Manny. A PACER search for just this particular District Court found 40 cases listing Manny Film as the plaintiff. TorrentFreak reports that the producers have filed more than 200 such claims thus far.

A week after filing this particular complaint, the judge ordered Manny Film to show good cause that the court could rely on geolocation technology to identify the actual defendant, and to show that there was reason to believe the defendant would be located in the district covered by the court.

In response [PDF] Manny Film contended that its allegation that the “subscriber of the IP address used to infringe Plaintiff’s movies, is the infringer is plausible… because Defendant is the most likely person to have committed the infringement. Indeed, by paying for the Internet, Defendant is the most likely person to use it, particularly at such a consistent and reoccurring basis as has occurred here.”

The plaintiffs also questioned the judge’s previous ruling in a case involving a porn company known for being a copyright troll. In that lawsuit, the judge had remarked that the “Plaintiff has not shown how this geolocation software can establish the identity of the Defendant. There is nothing that links the IP address location to the identity of the person actually downloading and viewing Plaintiff’s videos, and establishing whether that person lives in this district.”

Manny Film argued that the IP address isn’t intended to be the sole identifier of the pirate. That information will come from Comcast when they provide the court with the name associated with that IP address.

“[A]ll other courts to consider this issue have specifically disagreed,” with this judge’s stance on the issue, contends the response.

But in the judge’s order dismissing the complaint [PDF], she cites several cases where the court held there was no definitive reason to believe that the name associated with an IP address was indeed the person doing the pirating.

Reasons given by those other courts include the fact that the IP address is shared among all people using the network and there’s no way to show that it’s the account owner — and not their family member, roommate, guest, or someone squatting on their connection — responsible for the piracy.

The judge ruled that Manny Film was unable to show that identifying the owner of the IP address would identify the pirate.

“Even if this IP address is located within a residence, geolocation software cannot identify who have access to that residence’s computer and who would actually be using it to infringe Plaintiff’s copyright,” writes the judge.

[via TorrentFreak]