US judge orders piracy trial to test IP evidence

Illegal file download The case will test whether an IP address is sufficient evidence

Related Stories

A landmark case in the US will test whether internet piracy claims made by copyright firms will stand up in court.

Such cases rely on identifying the IP address of machines from which content was illegally downloaded as evidence of wrongdoing.

Experts have questioned whether the IP address is sufficient evidence because it identifies an internet connection rather than an individual.

An adult film studio must take cases to court, a judge has ruled.

Malibu Media has instigated 349 mass lawsuits, 43 in Pennsylvania this year.

Most of the cases are settled out of court.

WHAT IS AN IP ADDRESS?

  • An Internet Protocol address is a number assigned to a particular internet connection
  • It is a string of unique numbers
  • In a multi-device household the IP address is assigned to a router and all the devices will use the same address
  • IP addresses can be static, meaning a permanent internet address or dynamic - a temporary address that is assigned each time a computer or device accesses the internet
  • The current address system, IPv4, has approximately four billion IP addresses
  • They are running out and being replaced by IPv6 which can support a virtually limitless number of devices.

In one lawsuit, five of the anonymous defendants protested when their internet service providers were ordered to reveal their identities.

In a motion filed to the court they accuse Malibu Media of pursuing the cases "to extort settlements".

Judge Michael Baylson, of the Pennsylvania District Court, summarised their issues: "Among other things, the declaration asserts that the BitTorrent software does not work in the manner plaintiff alleges, and that a mere subscriber to an ISP is not necessarily a copyright infringer, with explanations as to how computer-based technology would allow non-subscribers to access a particular IP address."

He went on: "In other words... there is no reason to assume an ISP subscriber is the same person who may be using BitTorrent to download the alleged copyrighter material."

Because of these doubts, he said that a trial was needed "to decide who's right".

Because an IP address is assigned to a connection rather than a device it is often unclear who is using it. It is also possible, if a householder has not secured his or her wi-fi connection, for a neighbour or passerby to use it.

The TorrentFreak news site, which first reported the news, said: "Without a doubt, the trial is expected to set an important precedent."

Disrepute

Increasingly copyright holders in the US have begun mass lawsuits against thousands of individuals accusing them of illegally downloading copyrighted material via file-sharing service BitTorrent.

By studying BitTorrent sites the copyright owners gather IP addresses linked to illegal files. Via court orders they force ISPs to reveal the identities of the owners of the computers.

The UK faced a similar case in 2011 when solicitor Andrew Crossley brought a trial against a group of alleged illegal downloaders.

The use of IP evidence was raised but the focus of the case became the way ACS Law had conducted itself, described by the judge as "amateurish and slipshod".

Judge Colin Birss QC accused Mr Crossley of bringing the "legal profession into disrepute" and the case was dismissed.

Currently, UK-based Ben Dover Productions is pursing claims against 2,845 O2 customers accused of illegally downloading pornographic films.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Technology stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

BBC Future

(Thinkstock)

How to avoid movie flops

Tricks to predict true audience reactions Read more...

Programmes

  • Ade Adepitan at the ColosseumThe Travel Show Watch

    The challenge of providing disabled access at Europe’s leading ancient monuments

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.