Court Dismisses Copyright Lawsuit, Noting IP Address Is Not Enough Evidence For Infringement

from the nice-to-see dept

A few courts have noted similar things, but Fight Copyright Trolls and TorrentFreak both recently covered an interesting district court ruling out of Seattle, where Judge Robert Lansik noted that the producers of the movie Elf Man failed to state a claim for relief, since the only evidence they had was an IP address -- which wasn't enough to actually implicate any particular person in copyright infringement.
Plaintiff’s complaint does not raise a plausible inference that any of the named defendants are liable for direct, contributory, or indirect copyright infringement. In the fact sections of the complaint, plaintiff carefully refrains from alleging that the owners of the IP address – i.e., the named defendants – are the ones who utilized the internet access to download the copyrighted material. Rather, plaintiff alleges that the IP address assigned to each defendant “was observed infringing Plaintiff’s motion picture” ... and that each named defendant either (a) downloaded the BitTorrent “client” application and used it to download and share the copyrighted material or (b) permitted, facilitated, or promoted the use of their internet connections by others to download and share the copyrighted material .... Pursuant to plaintiff’s allegations, a particular defendant may have directly and intentionally stolen plaintiff’s copyrighted material, or she may simply have “facilitated” unauthorized copying by purchasing an internet connection which an unidentified third party utilized to download “Elf-Man.” Plaintiff provides no factual allegations that make one scenario more likely than the other: both are merely possible given the alternative allegations of the complaint.

[....] The critical defect in this case is not the alternative pleading of claims of direct, contributory, and indirect infringement. Rather, the problem arises from the alternative pleading of the facts that are supposed to support those claims. The effect of the two “or” conjunctions means that plaintiff has actually alleged no more than that the named defendants purchased internet access and failed to ensure that others did not use that access to download copyrighted material.
Of course, we've seen plenty of copyright holders directly allege that failure of a internet account holder to stop infringement is somehow a violation of the law itself, but that's not what the law says at all. Here, the judge is correctly noting that make a huge inference from just the IP address to having enough for a lawsuit makes the plaintiff's claim not enough to move forward. This is only a district court ruling, but as a few other courts have made some similar claims, perhaps it can be useful in pushing back on standard copyright trolling, as courts become less willing to entertain fishing expeditions by trolls.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    crade (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 2:09pm

    Have they ever had more than an I.P. address in the history of infringement lawsuits? Why is this coming up now?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    techie, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 2:18pm

    It shows how crooked judges are. Why did it take so long to admit the obvious?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    DannyB (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 2:19pm

    Re:

    It's coming up now because courts are finally catching on to reality instead of listening to what Hollywood tells them. But then Hollywood has always been about fiction instead of reality.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    icon
    Karl (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 2:20pm

    Re:

    Have they ever had more than an I.P. address in the history of infringement lawsuits? Why is this coming up now?

    Usually in these cases, the rights holders go to a judge with an I.P. address, and attempt to get a subpoena to identify the owner of the I.P. address. In theory, this is for discovery, so that the rights holders can investigate the owner and determine who is the actual infringer.

    In reality, of course, such subpoenas are almost exclusively used to send threat letters to the I.P. owners, whether they are the infringers or not, in order to coerce a "settlement."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    jameshogg (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 2:21pm

    Hope I have encapsulated everything well, here.

    "This I.P. leads to the many offices of a large corporation. Plaintiff, would you like to proceed?"

    "Yes."

    "We have found the computer in question, but it was a Tor exit node. We have found the next I.P. in the chain. Plaintiff, would you like to proceed?"

    "Yes."

    "We have found 23 more I.P. steps in the chain and one of them routed through a school firewall. Plaintiff, would you like to proceed?"

    "Yes."

    "This final I.P. address seems to lead to a cafe with WiFi access. Plaintiff, would you like to proceed?"

    "Yes."

    "The cafe has noted access by yet another middleman relaying to a neighbourhood all the way from fucking England. Plaintiff, would you like to proceed?"

    "Yes."

    "The final I.P., as in THE final one this time, has lead to a flat owner who had his WiFi hacked by a password cracker. We have no evidence of who did the hacking, and could have literally been anyone on the planet. That final pirate has not been caught. Plaintiff, would you like to proceed?"

    "How DARE that flat owner not monitor his internet usage! Pirate facilitator!!!?!!?"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    DannyB (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 2:22pm

    Re:

    It may just show how clueless judges have been. But I'm sure crooked is a factor in some instances.

    Eventually everyone in society hears about massive judgements for sharing 24 songs. And just graduated high school students losing their college money. And having friends like Righthaven and Prenda do not help things.

    It all stinks to high heaven. And judges get wind of it just like everyone else. They form an opinion just like everyone else.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    Karl (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 2:24pm

    "facilitated"

    Of course, we've seen plenty of copyright holders directly allege that failure of a internet account holder to stop infringement is somehow a violation of the law itself, but that's not what the law says at all.

    Indeed. That's why I wish the legal profession would use a term other than "facilitated."

    Facilitation is not per se unlawful. It must be intentional facilitation, or at the very least involve some sort of willful negligence standard. One can even "facilitate" an act unintentionally, but such a facilitator is not secondarily liable for that action.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    DannyB (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 2:25pm

    Re: Hope I have encapsulated everything well, here.

    But haven't you heard? If there is copyright infringement anywhere (or anything else you don't like) . . .

    Google must be to blame!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    MrWilson, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 2:44pm

    Re: "facilitated"

    No, no. Clearly facilitating anything unlawful is itself unlawful. Selling kitchen knives is facilitating murder with a kitchen knife.

    By the copyright troll's logic: Kitchen Kaboodle is a merchant of murder tools.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 2:46pm

    Re: Re: Hope I have encapsulated everything well, here.

    Google must be to blame!


    ... or pirates. The sea out there must be a mean place with all the ships running around with loose cannons.

    Can we get some lawyer fodder?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 2:55pm

    and all those convicted using this as the only evidence should have their convictions quashed and fines returned!! then the industries that filed the lawsuits and got certain judges to accept the unprovable evidence as being truthful should themselves be prosecuted!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    Karl (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 3:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Hope I have encapsulated everything well, here.

    ... or pirates.

    Haven't you heard? According to copyright maximalists, Google and "pirates" are one and the same thing. Defend Google, and you're defending piracy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 3:15pm

    Carrier-grade NAT, boys and girls

    If you don't know what it is, check the Wikipedia entry.

    (pauses briefly)

    This and similar schemes are making it much harder to correlate actions with IPv4 addresses -- and even if that bar is cleared, that does not necessarily correlate actions with particular computers, and even if THAT bar is cleared, that does not necessarily correlate actions with particular users.

    Not that this will stop techno-illiterate prosecutors from reaching entirely unsupportable conclusions, but perhaps a defense attorney reading this will find it useful as part of a defense strategy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    crade (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 3:28pm

    Re: Re:

    Sure, I realize most of them are just trying to extort settlements, but this isn't the first time someone has gone to trial..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 3:42pm

    Difficulty of identifying is sheerly a technical problem.

    IF you read the block quote with understanding, it's a rather bizarre defect that appears to be from using the passive voice in writing: "plaintiff carefully refrains from alleging that the owners of the IP address i.e., the named defendants are the ones who utilized the internet access to download the copyrighted material."

    I wouldn't rely on that flaw of plaintiff NOT stating the obvious.

    Besides, an ISP is not going to shield pirates indefinitely. Already able to identify torrenting by upload/download ratio. I predict that opposite Mike's hopes of "pushing back on copyright trolling" there'll soon be a revenue stream to ISPs from tipping off lawyers and providing all the identification needed. It's already in your "contract" that they can, or if not, can be added at any time.

    Special note to "jameshogg" and his utterly ignorable "First Word" (in BLUE): HUH? Do you actually consider that to express cogent thought?

    Pirates: next time you wish to "share", just email the artist and see if you can get permission...

    11:40:16[m-601-7]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 4:31pm

    Re: Carrier-grade NAT, boys and girls

    With Carrier-grade NAT (CGN), you need the complete 5-tuple (protocol, source IP, source port, destination IP, destination port), plus a NTP-synchronized timestamp to the millisecond. Then you can go look at the CGN logs...

    Oh, wait, the CGN log is incomplete, since a full log would take gigabytes per day.

    Oh, wait, your timestamp might be NTP-synchronized... But the CGN lost NTP synch some time last year (if it had ever been configured), and nobody ever noticed (who needs precise timestamps after all).

    Oh, wait, there was another NAT behind the CGN. One of these small NATs which never keep any logs.

    (I love NAT, it makes everything so simple!)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Mike, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 4:39pm

    Offshore VPN...it's a beautiful thing. And don't forget to keep your Blocklist Manager updated too!! ;-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 4:41pm

    out_of_the_blue can't stand it when due process is enforced.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 4:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Hope I have encapsulated everything well, here.

    Remember, kids.

    If you demand due process, it means that executives and lobbyists are spending money to get the laws changed by buying hookers, blow and yachts with swimming pools for the lawmakers and judges involved.

    Money that could have been spent on hookers, blow and yachts with swimming pools... for the lobbyists.

    Ignore due process. Think of the hookers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Justin Olbrantz (Quantam), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 10:12pm

    Re: Difficulty of identifying is sheerly a technical problem.

    Basically the plaintiffs in this case learned that if you tell the truth and don't misrepresent the facts to a level bordering on perjury - as most plaintiffs in file sharing cases do - it's plainly obvious to even unknowledgeable judges that you have no case.

    I'm betting they don't make that mistake again. Next time it will be all misrepresentation and vitriol.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Mr Big Content, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 10:15pm

    An Intellectual Property Address Is As Unique As A Fingerprint

    What a stupid judge. Typical of these people who don't understand IP law and how it allocates addresses. Next time, leave it to the experts, kiddo!

    Thank God the CAFC and ITC have smarter folks than this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 11:48pm

    A court that starts to question a racket that has been sweeping the nation.
    I wonder how this happens...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 23rd, 2014 @ 12:00am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Hope I have encapsulated everything well, here.

    You forgot, terorism, child porn and murder. Because apparently Google is God.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 23rd, 2014 @ 4:01am

    IP Address Has Nothing to Do with A Person

    Being somewhat technical, and more or less understanding the internet, it has always amazed me that the courts would rule that a numerical IP address had any bearing on the account owner.

    The only case in which that's true is those few customers who pay lots extra for a fixed IP address. That's usually for businesses or bloggers that need a fixed location for their web site.

    Almost ALL private customers have "dynamic" IP addresses, so called because the ISP assigns one of a pool of addresses to the customer when he logs on. Tomorrow, that same address could be assigned to someone on the other side of the county. Even those who leave their computers on 24/7 can get reassigned during quiet periods.

    Some lawyer did a pretty good snow job on the judge that agreed to that.
    .

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), Jan 24th, 2014 @ 3:09am

    Re: Hope I have encapsulated everything well, here.

    Or there's my version: "The IP has led directly to T-Mobile. Plaintiff, would you like to proceed?"
    "Yes."
    "We have 236,000 potential defendants to choose from. Plaintiff, would you like to proceed?"
    "Little bastards taking advantage of shared IP addresses to pirate the results of my hard work in representing my clients!"
    *'pirate' whistles casually as they unconcernedly rip off the explicit version of 'The Bad Touch' from YouTube because it's "Not Available on Mobile"*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This