Print 60 comment(s) - last by khaydin.. on May 24 at 12:47 PM

  (Source: Kevin Pezzi)
Lack of technical knowledge plagued the court for years, allowing the RIAA to victimize citizens

Judge Harold Baker, a judge at the Central District Court of Illinois, has ruled that an internet protocol address does not necessarily mean a specific person, and thus can not be treated as such in a criminal or civil investigation.

I. IP Doth Not a Person Make

Technology professionals have long understood that IP addresses are closer to a zip code than a social security number.  Multiple people locally accessing or remotely funneling through a specific hotspot can share IP addresses.  In short, IP address offers little clue to a users' true identity.

Yet for years the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), along with its international peers, has been victimizing individuals into out of court settlements, because their IP address was found to be sharing copyrighted materials.  Some of these individuals didn't even have access to a computer, and in at least one case, the target of the RIAA complaint was a recently deceased elderly individual.

In court, the U.S. largely upheld IP logs as evidence in trials such as the cases against Jammie Thomas-Rassert and Joel Tenenbaum.

And recently, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and its sister agencies have been conducting raids on suspected child pornography viewers based solely on IP logs -- with minimal background research.  In many cases these raids were later discovered to be case of mistaken identity -- but that discovery came too late for brutalized homeowners.

II.  The VPR Internationale Case

Judge Baker ruled against a Canadian adult film distributor in the case VPR Internationale v. Does 1-1017.  In the case, VPR Internationale sought court authorization to demand customer data from internet service providers.  

It had collected logs of IP addresses of users' illegally sharing its materials via bittorrent.  By obtaining the subscriber information associated with the specific account, it hoped to coerce the subscriber into a settlement ranging from hundreds of dollars to a few thousand dollars.  As there was 100,000 IPs implicated in its request, the company stood to make a multi-million dollar profit from the settlements.

But as it turns out Judge Baker rejected the request, pointing out that multiple users could share an IP and requesting information would violate the subscriber's privacy rights.  He said the court was not in the business of authorizing a "fishing expedition" at the consumers' expense.

In the ruling [Scribd], he writes, "Orin Kerr, a professor at George Washington University Law School, noted that whether you’re guilty or not, you look like a suspect. Could expedited discovery be used to wrest quick settlements, even from people who have done nothing wrong? .. [T]he embarrassment of public exposure might be too great, the legal system too daunting and expensive, for some to ask whether the plaintiff VPR has competent evidence to prove its case."

III. The Road Ahead

The issue of IP addresses as evidence has hardly been laid to rest, though the practice was dealt a major blow by the ruling.

Generally, only higher courts will rule against an existing precedent in the U.S.  So the question becomes when and if a higher court takes this issue up, will they come to the same conclusions?

The public in the U.S. will have to wait to see whether future justice follows the same logical, well-informed perspective of Judge Harold.

In the meantime, the ruling should prove tremendously valuable to those looking to defend themselves against the RIAA or other threatening parties.  Texas lawyer Robert Cashman, who has represented several individuals in scuffles regarding IP-related copyright claims, blogs, "We may have just seen the order that may end all future John Doe lawsuits."

Recent legal decisions have also cast doubt on entertainment industry organizations' claims that "making available" equated to file-sharing.

Comments     Threshold

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By RjBass on 5/4/2011 3:39:15 PM , Rating: 2
I have always feared that some 15 year old hacker would break into my wireless network and start downloading illegal material. I change my wireless pass codes every month, and use IPCOP as my router and only allow authorized mac address access to my network. But even with all that, a determined hacker could still get in. This ruling is fantastic news.

RE: Good
By Taft12 on 5/4/11, Rating: -1
RE: Good
By lightfoot on 5/4/2011 5:19:39 PM , Rating: 5
Only in the US can you feel fear even though you haven't committed a crime!

Only?? You're kidding right?

In most of the world people live in fear even though they haven't committed a crime. Very few countries have as much freedom and have as good rule of law as the United States. Yes, there may be corruption in the U.S. and yes, we may have law enforcement agencies and other organizations that overstep their bounds, but I assure you that our system is far, far better than most other nations in the world.

For example, try living in any one of the following countries without living in fear even though you haven't committed a crime:
China (massive corruption, lacking human rights)
India (massive corruption, rampant poverty)
Most of Africa (little or no rule of law)
Russia (massive corruption)
Mexico (corruption and rampant lawlessness)
Most middle eastern nations (religious persecution)

I would say that only in the US, Canada, Japan and a handful of Western European nations can you live without fear when you haven't committed a crime. The U.S. is the exception, not the rule; and it's definitely for the better.

RE: Good
By UnauthorisedAccess on 5/4/2011 7:01:05 PM , Rating: 4
Add Australia to that list of fearless countries. Though my personal opinion is that it's skewed too far away from the law makers as it appears that the courts prefer handing out warnings and are fearful of being harsh on minorities (be they social, religious, economic or racial)...but she'll be right, we're all mates in the end :D

RE: Good
By priusone on 5/5/2011 2:10:50 AM , Rating: 2
During a sweap, we found a bunch of liquor in some muslims house. He fell to his knees and begged us not to tell anyone. All we cared about was making sure that A) He had personal protection to keep him safe from fellow piece loving (boom) muslims, and B) He wasn't out to blow up his fellow arab neighbors (which the majority of ied's tend to do).

RE: Good
By Springfield45 on 5/5/2011 3:59:44 AM , Rating: 4
Thank you for your service.

RE: Good
By sabbede on 5/6/2011 10:14:33 PM , Rating: 2
And did any of you have a drink with him? Could have been the only booze for a thousand miles...
It would have been a great way to help win hearts and minds.

RE: Good
By mmatis on 5/5/2011 9:28:45 AM , Rating: 2
Keep on suckin' them pigs. Hundreds of thousands of people in the US have learned otherwise. Of course, a bunch of them are dead for having been stupid enough to point a garden hose at a pig they didn't know was there, or wave a cell phone, or...

But sure, you go ahead if that's what you believe. Don't be surprised, though, when you find out you were wrong. Dead wrong.

RE: Good
By mmatis on 5/5/2011 9:34:59 AM , Rating: 2
And you can start HERE:

to begin understanding just what this country's "Finest" are really doing. By the way, that daily listing comes from PUBLISHED reports of police misconduct which that one individual is able to collect. Please do note that MOST police departments treat misconduct as a personnel matter which is not subject to disclosure. And that they ALSO investigate themselves unless forced to allow an outside investigation. There's a reason it's called the Blue Wall. And it ain't because they're protecting YOU.

RE: Good
By slacker57 on 5/5/2011 4:56:44 PM , Rating: 2
Hey, look! There goes the point. Aw, too late, you missed it...

RE: Good
By sabbede on 5/6/2011 10:19:45 PM , Rating: 2
No, start here:
And learn the difference between isolated incidents of bad conduct and systemic oppression.

RE: Good
By Reclaimer77 on 5/9/2011 2:22:08 AM , Rating: 2
In most of the world people live in fear even though they haven't committed a crime. Very few countries have as much freedom and have as good rule of law as the United States.

Freedom is NOT the natural state of man. He needs to study history and understand why the United States was so unique in it's creation.

RE: Good
By rcc on 5/4/2011 5:44:20 PM , Rating: 2
File yourself under clueless and confused.

RE: Good
By IvanAndreevich on 5/4/2011 5:12:15 PM , Rating: 2
Not if you use good encryption and a strong password, unless that determined hacker gets a trojan onto your computer first - then wireless will be the least of your worries.

"My sex life is pretty good" -- Steve Jobs' random musings during the 2010 D8 conference

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