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IP address does not identify a person, judge tells copyright troll in BitTorrent case

A federal judge in Florida tossed out a case after porn copyright troll Malibu Media failed to prove an IP address can identify the specific person who infringed.

A Florida District Court Judge recently determined that an IP address does not identify a specific individual guilty of infringing. She then dismissed a copyright troll's case. This is considered an important ruling that may help set a trend that others will follow.

Copyright trolls like to use IP addresses as evidence to ask courts to grant subpoenas so they can get their hands on account details from ISPs. The problem with that, as TorrentFreak points out, "is that the person listed as the account holder is often not the person who downloaded the infringing material."

Surprise, or not so much, known porn copyright troll Malibu Media said it caught someone sharing one of its adult films on BitTorrent. Malibu Media LLC, previously accused of "nasty copyright troll tactics" by the EFF, claimed [pdf] it used "geolocation technology to trace the copyright infringement to an Internet Protocol address" (IP).  According to Malibu Media, "174.61.81.171" was the guilty BitTorrent pirate and it wanted a subpoena to obtain the account details from the Internet provider.

Before issuing a subpoena, District Court Judge Ursula Mancusi Ungaro wanted to know how Malibu Media could prove that IP address "174.61.81.171″ pinpointed the identity of the specific person who infringed.

Malibu Media filed a 14-page document [pdf] detailing how it can trace an IP address back to the actual infringer. It claimed that the "geolocation tracing process" had "accurately predicted" John Doe's "IP address would trace to the state of Florida and the Southern District of Florida 100% of the time." Malibu Media added that it "uses the same procedures as law enforcement," and its "geolocation database has correctly provided traces to this state and district 100% of the time."

Not impressed, Judge Ungaro wrote:

Plaintiff has shown that the geolocation software can provide a location for an infringing IP address; however, Plaintiff has not shown how this geolocation software can establish the identity of the Defendant. There is nothing that links the IP address location to the identity of the person actually downloading and viewing Plaintiff's videos, and establishing whether that person lives in this district. For example, when arguing that this IP address is not a coffee shop or open Wi-Fi network, Plaintiff points to the timing of the alleged infringement and the fact that the internet service provider typically provides internet to residences.

Plaintiff then argues that a coffee shop owner could possibly identify the Defendant. Even if this IP address is located within a residence, the geolocation software cannot identify who has access to that residence's computer and who would actually be using it to infringe Plaintiff's copyright. The Court finds that Plaintiff has not established good cause for the Court to reasonably rely on Plaintiff's usage of geolocation to establish the identity of the Defendant. The Court also finds that Plaintiff has not established good cause as to why this action should not be dismissed for improper venue.

Case dismissed.

Of course, this is not the first time in a BitTorrent case for a judge to rule that an IP address is not a person. Yet 2014 may be the year things change for copyright trolls in BitTorrent piracy lawsuits. In January, a Washington District Judge ruled that an IP address is not sufficient evidence to prove that the account holder is the person guilty of copyright infringement.

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