This week, a judge from New York ruled that an IP address record is not enough evidence in a case of illegal file-sharing and copyrighted material. He also recommends other judges make similar rulings in the future for like offenses.
An illegal torrenting case typically begins with an official list of IP addresses of alleged offenders, held by the owners of the copyrighted media. This is generally all of the evidence they have to present. The owners then ask the courts to subpoena the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to urge them to hand over sensitive information about accounts linked to the IP addresses. This would likely be near-impossible without higher judgement forcing them to do so.
So, what is his basis behind his ruling? Judge Gary Brown points out in a 26-page ruling, that the account holder is not always the person responsible for the downloading and transferring of copyrighted material.
“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,” Brown said in his Order & Report & Recommendation , filed May 1.
Brown goes on to include that an IP address simply indicates a location in which the action took place on a particular device. Computers or other internet-connect devices are typically shared amongst other family members or vistiors that may not be monitored for online activities. As another point, Brown claims that many homes are now connected through a wireless network – tons of which are not properly setup and secured. This would, in turn, make it seem as though there is illegal activity happening in a household, when in reality, it could be a next door neighbor doing the damage.
In the end, as not every user of every computer in the world has a personally identifying IP address, there is absolutely no way to determine that any one person had committed any crimes. Therefore, no charges can be pressed on alleged criminals.
Does this mean it is safe to torrent and share files however you please? For now, this is just a ruling of one judge in New York. Many other file-sharing cases have been fully carried out and the criminals prosecuted. Though I do feel Judge Brown has laid the groundwork for the dismissal of similar cases without incriminating evidence.