Judge Throws Out Mass John Doe Porn Copyright Lawsuits

Porn studios can't determine who downloaded their movies from BitTorrent by using an IP address, the judge says

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Fri, May 04, 2012

IDG News Service (Washington, D.C., Bureau) — A judge in New York has shot down the attempt of three pornography studios to sue nearly 80 people for allegedly downloading movies on BitTorrent, with the judge slamming the studio's efforts to file lawsuits against multiple anonymous defendants.

Magistrate Judge Gary Brown denied the studio requests to subpoena the names associated with 79 IP addresses, with Brown arguing that IP addresses aren't enough evidence to pinpoint who actually downloaded a file from BitTorrent.

"The assumption that the person who pays for Internet access at a given location is the same individual who allegedly downloaded a single sexually explicit film is tenuous, and one that has grown more so over time," Brown wrote in his ruling, first noted by the Fight Copyright Trolls blog. "An IP address provides only the location at which one of any number of computer devices may be deployed, much like a telephone number can be used for any number of telephones."

Brown, of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, allowed the lawsuits to move forward against only one defendant in each of four so-called John Doe lawsuits targeting anonymous Internet users.

Brown's 26-page order, issued Tuesday, could be a turning point in a massive effort to sue BitTorrent users for copyright infringement, said Mitch Stoltz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group that has opposed the John Doe lawsuits.

Since mid-2010, movie studios and other content producers have sued more than 220,000 BitTorrent users for copyright infringement, Brown noted in his ruling, citing a U.S. News and World Report story.

Brown's ruling was broader than BitTorrent decisions from most other judges, and could be a model for future court decisions, Stoltz said. There's been a "huge split" among judges on whether to grant subpoena requests in these mass John Doe infringement lawsuits, although judges in California, Illinois and Washington, D.C., have taken similar stances to Brown's, he said.

"Many [judges] will see this as confirmation," Stoltz said of Brown's ruling. "There absolutely is a trend toward shutting down this sort of abuse of discovery."

Brown took studios K-Beech, Malibu Media and Patrick Collins Inc. to task for their use of John Doe lawsuits seeking the identities of defendants by IP address. A number of people, including family members of the owner of the Internet account, visitors or free-riders on an open Wi-Fi network, could have access to an IP address and accomplished the alleged downloads, Brown wrote.

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