An IP-Address Will Not Reveal a BitTorrent User

New York Judge Gary Brown has quite possibly struck a death blow to what was a fledging business with his sharply worded judgment in a recent anti-piracy case. The single biggest outcome of this judgment was his conclusion that an IP-address cannot be used to identify and convict a person who is allegedly indulging in copyright infringement.

In simple terms, this judgment states that all those who until now have been accused of the above crime have received a raw deal. As such the accusation on them by holders of the various copyrights is wrong and unlawful.

IP-addresses – The Main Weapon of Anti-Piracy Groups

The last couple of years have seen a massive horde of BitTorrent lawsuits being filed in various US courts. The number of people accused in such lawsuits has gone upto more than 200,000 at last count.

The copyright holders, in all these lawsuits, have taken recourse to the accused person’s IP-address as proof of pirate activity. On the basis of that they ask the court to allow a subpoena, which allows them to seek personal information of the accused from his/her internet service provider. This was the usual chain of events until the recent judgment by Judge Gary Brown.

Identifying Using IP-address – An Unreliable & Inconclusive Method

The fact that copyright holders hold the owner responsible for all acts pertaining to his/her IP-address is something that has not found takers in many US courts of law. However, none of the courts or judges for that matter expressed their doubts and reservations as clearly as Judge Gary Brown did.

In fact, he was quite forthright when mentioning in his recommendation order that such BitTorrent cases are nothing but “a waste of judicial resources’. He further goads on other judges to dismiss similar cases in the future.

The Arguments Presented by the Judge

The reasoning adopted by Judge Brown has some very firm foundations that cannot be proven wrong by copyright holders in an easy manner. To the claim of copyright holders that IP-addresses can be used to identify the offenders, the judge said that assuming the owner of an internet connection to be guilty of any copyright infringement activity on that connection is based on very weak reasoning and fundamentals.

According to him, an IP-address represents only the location where any number of devices might be connected to the network. This is akin to using one telephone number from multiple telephones.

Yet another argument he makes concerns the wireless nature of internet that is prevalent in most American homes today. Nearly 61% of the homes have wireless internet which means any number of devices could have accessed the internet from a single IP-address.

There is also the possibility of other users apart from those in the household of having access to an unsecured connection. And even in case of a secured connection, loopholes can be exploited by potential hackers.

With this conclusion, not only has Judge Brown brought to an end all on-going BitTorrent lawsuits in New York’s Eastern District but has also set a precedent for other judges to take a cue from.