An IP Address Is Not Sufficient Evidence to Identify a Person

A New York federal judge quashed and/or limited adult film industry plaintiffs’ requests for early discovery in a copyright infringement case stemming from numerous “John Doe”  defendants’ supposed illegal downloading of adult films. As a part of his analysis in this ruling,  U.S. Magistrate Gary R. Brown held last Tuesday that an IP address is not sufficient evidence to identify a specific person in a case alleging that pornographic copyrighted material was illegally downloaded. According Magistrate Brown, “It is no more likely that the subscriber to an IP address carried out a particular computer function — here the purported illegal downloading of a single pornographic film — than to say an individual who pays the telephone bill made a specific telephone call.”

This is good news for John Doe defendants accused of illegal downloading.  Magistrate Brown’s decision was influenced in part by the fact that he believed the plaintiffs were using abusive settlement techniques in an effort to “shake down” the defendants. He was also mindful that being named as a defendant in a suit of this type could have embarrassing consequences for the defendants–consequences that might not be warranted, given the very real possibility of having false positives due to the plaintiff’s reliance on IP addresses. Defendants would feel extreme pressure to settle even meritless claims for fear of being publicly named in such a lawsuit. Consequently, the court tried to tightly limit what information the plaintiff could obtain in early discovery.

The decision was part of Magistrate Brown’s recommendation in four related copyright infringement cases brought by adult film companies. The cases are In re: BitTorrent Adult Film Copyright Cases, case numbers 2:12-cv-01147, 2:11-cv-03995, 2:12-cv-01150, and 2:12-cv-01154, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

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