The MPAA and RIAA's anti-piracy efforts are about to experience a setback due to a landmark ruling by a judge in New York, stating that an IP-address is not a person.
Judge Gary Brown of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York has made a ruling in one of the many mass Bit-Torrent lawsuits in the U.S.A. - he states categorically that an IP-address is not sufficient evidence to identify copyright infringers.
The judge states that this lack of specific evidence means that many alleged Bit-Torrent pirates have been wrongfully accused by copyright holders in the past.
These lawsuits have been ongoing for around two years in the U.S.A. and involve more than a quarter of a million alleged downloaders.
When these cases began, the copyright holders merely provided an IP-address as evidence of copyright infringement. They then requested the court to grant a subpoena to allow them to ask internet service providers for the personal details of these alleged offenders.
However, according to the judge, the person listed as the account holder is often not the person who illegally downloaded the copyrighted material. In other words, an IP-address is not a person.
In the ruling the judge stated that an IP-address merely identifies the location at which any number of Internet-connected devices may be found, much like that of a single telephone number which can be used by many telephones.
In his 26-page ruling Judge Brown said, "Thus, it is no more likely that the subscriber to an IP address carried out a particular computer function than to say an individual who pays the telephone bill made a specific telephone call."
In the case in question, unidentified defendants were accused of illegally downloading adult movies. The judge recommended that the case be dismissed due to the fact that finding the identity of the individual involved, associated with a device, was "unlikely" to reveal the true identity of the culprit.
He wrote, "Most, 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."
Voltage Pictures, the movie studio behind the film "The Hurt Locker" had filed a new round of lawsuits against 2,500 Bit-Torrent users which is accuses of illegally downloading the film. The studio alleges that it has lost millions of dollars in revenue and hoped to get a subpoena to reveal the identities of the alleged movie sharers via their IP-addresses.
Thanks to the new ruling, they probably won't have much luck in the case.