Judge Rules That IP Addresses Cannot Be Used to Identify Copyright Infringers

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“Manny” is the name of a documentary about boxer Manny Pacquiao. The film was released in May of 2014.

The filmmakers filed 150+ copyright infringement lawsuits against unnamed people who downloaded their movie illegaly. These lawsuits named IP addresses, not the names of actual people. The filmmakers planned on submitting subpoenas to ISPs, forcing them to name the customers associated with the IP address.

Things didn’t go as planned…

A Southern District of Florida judge says the filmmakers did not prove that IP addresses can reasonably determine who was responsible for the infringement.

The judge also says they didn’t prove that the person responsible is located in the court’s district.

The filmmakers argued that “all other courts” have agreed with using IP addresses to identify the infringing parties, but this isn’t true. The judge cited a number of cases where courts disagreed with this method.

The judge has denied the filmmaker’s request.

See the full document here.


Nina Ulloa covers breaking news, tech, and more: @nine_u

28 Responses

  1. GGG

    I mean, in terms of copyright infringing this sucks, but in the grand scheme of things this is probably a good precedent. Plenty of people can probably hack into shit and frame people if IP=person.

    • Bandit

      It doesn’t even have to be that clever.

      Kid uses grandma’s computer to download movie.

      if the subpoena went through the local news would have great copy. I can see it now……local grandma’s house searched by deputies and evil attorneys of copyright plaintiff.

      • Name2

        The filmmakers argued that “all other courts” have agreed with using IP addresses to identify the infringing parties, but this isn’t true. The judge cited a number of cases where courts disagreed with this method..

        “But, but… all the other judges are doing it!”


      • Name2

        Yeah, you WISH plaintiff copyright attorneys had the right to search houses.

        • Bandit

          I know they don’t, but when the local action news team goes out to grandma’s house who do you think grandma is going to say is behind the search and seizure of her computer “Those bad copyright lawyers took my computer!”

      • Versus

        That is how it should be…and that’s how children learn that they cannot do such things.

        Just like if a child illegally used grandma’s phone for criminal activity.

  2. Chris H

    Since I’m not all that tech savvy, if that is not the golden standard, what would be?

    • Sarah

      I’m not sure there is a “golden standard” yet, and I think that’s a big part of the problem. The IP address was just a proxy for identifying the person, and it was a flawed one.

      But this is just one district court – others have ruled otherwise, as the filmmakers argued. The decision could theoretically have no impact beyond this one case.

  3. Wooly

    What other methods does the court suggest be used?

    I suppose they will also rule that bank robbers cannot be identified by use of visual identification or cameras.

    • GGG

      Well…no…that would be visual identification…

      This isn’t that different from you being able to get a refund when someone uses your credit card. Otherwise CCs could just say, “well, YOUR card was used, so it HAD to have been you!”

    • Sarah

      GGG’s credit card example illustrates the issue well.

      And from the decision itself (citing a different case):

      “[I]t 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.”

      Unlike visual identification of a specific person, tracing the owner of a credit card, the payer on a telephone bill, or the subscriber of an IP address doesn’t reliably get you to the person who committed a specific act using the credit card/telephone/IP address. It’s a lead, sure, but on its own it isn’t reasonable proof of anything.

    • J JONE

      If the visual identification was untrustworthy or camera shot unclear then yes the evidence shouldn’t be used as proof.

  4. Anonymous

    Nina, easy now 🙂 — it’s not even remotely relevant what one

    “Southern District of Florida judge says”

    IP addresses are indeed used to track and monetize tens of thousands of pirates all over the place, and it ain’t gonna change any time soon.

    🙂 Hunting pirates is the new Gentleman’s Sport. 🙂

    • FarePlay

      Hunting users and hunting providers are separate issues. The ISP identification methodology is a slippery slope and it would make more sense to close the accounts of frequent transgressions emanating from a specifi ISP. The problem there is it would simple create a new version of whack-a-mole, where users sign up for a new service provider.

      Ultimately, we need to turn the heat up on those who operate and profit from Internet piracy and not the individual user.

      • Anonymous

        “we need to turn the heat up on those who operate and profit from Internet piracy and not the individual user”

        No, we really have to do both. Fortunately, it’s very easy:

        Just use one or more of these cheap and brilliant services to hunt, punish and/or monetize your local pirate:

        *Topple Track

        There are so many possibilities — here’s what Topple Track owner Zach said on these pages when we were discussing Lady Gaga’s ‘crowdsourced anti-piracy’:

        “Somone should gamify the process, kids would love that. Earn badges towards free […] concert tickets, etc.”

  5. Paul Resnikoff

    Interestingly, there are a lot of IP enforcement companies that send threatening legal demand letters to infringers, based on IP addresses. These people often pay up, because they don’t have the ability to fight the demand in court, and that’s that.

  6. Anonymous

    You win some, you lose some. Thats the way it goes!

  7. JeffC

    I have seen cases where the MAC address is part of the subpoena request.
    That’s a LOT harder to spoof than an IP address [though of course it can be done by those determined to do so].
    As Paul stated, it seems most people will find the means to settle rather than fight it.
    There ARE copyright trolls out there that have no vested interest aside from cashing checks.
    It’s an ugly scene all around.

  8. Psh

    Unless the address is from a coffee shop or public library, you can pretty well determine who it was. C’mon now

  9. stephen craig aristei

    If any of you are old enough to remember “love lines” with Adam Carrolla and Dr. Drew – you will remember – the often played game called “Germany or Florida”….! All the must “F’ed up” things in the world happen in either Germany or F……. !

  10. yoyo

    I have seen these things where you can allegedly mask your IP, which I understand means changing your IP to show as someone else’s IP while you do the deed. If that works, even in the minimal sense, you are now surfing under an assumed IP belonging to someone else right?. So that other innocent person would get blamed for anything you do while operating under their IP. If this is remotely true, then identity by IP is baseless.

    sort of like digital identity theft.

    • Hippydog

      IP addresses cant be hacked themselves (or at least not easily), as they are provided by the service provider (service providers are pretty robust against hackers)..
      BUT, the computer can be taken over (hacked) and made to do the same thing (act as a router for another computer), so essentially doing the same thing..
      so yes.. digital identity theft is a real thing, just not as you described it.. 😉

      So I agree with the judge..
      trying to use IP addresses as a type of identity, to then initiate a warrant, is a pretty slippery and dangerous slope!

      • JeffC

        Open/pay proxy servers are not hard to find -they essentially allow you to use their address pool either for free or for a fee. Do they track who is using their IP space? Who knows/it depends/maybe/maybe not. You can use these to watch TV shows that you would otherwise not be allowed to based on Geological IP address data.
        You CAN also mask/change your MAC address to say, spoof somebody else’s router or just make something up. It’s not as simple to do; unlike an IP address, a MAC address is unique to every piece of hardware connected and could be used to determine a user’s identity much more definitively than an IP address, which can changed trivially [though your ISP DOES keep track of who has been assigned what at any given moment – thus the subpoena process to out the user, but it’s not, apparently, a robust enough method for SOME judges to adhere to…].