Singapore Court Tosses Copyright Troll Cases Because IP Addresses Aren't Good Enough Evidence

from the preach dept

We’ve been saying this for years, but IP addresses are not good enough evidence on which to base copyright infringement lawsuits. At some level, everyone already knows this to be true. You can tell that’s the case because the typical pretenders stating otherwise are the copyright trolls with a business model that relies on gathering large numbers of supposedly infringing IP addresses, mailing out settlement demands to the supposed pirates that own the accounts of those IP addresses, and then collecting very real money from some percentage of the recipients. On top of that, even these trolls will often claim that the onus is on the account holder of an internet connection to police their own pipe, which is a delightful end-around to the common concept of punishing true infringers as opposed to innocent third parties.

There are places with legal systems that have had enough of this practice and we can now add Singapore’s to the list. The High Court in Singapore recently threw out requests from several copyright trolls made to ISPs there to produce account information for IP addresses they claim were used to infringe on two movies, Fathers & Daughters and Queen Of The Desert.

The oral decision delivered at a closed-door hearing on Monday was on the grounds of “insufficient evidence”, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) told The Straits Times yesterday. In a rare move, the AGC intervened in civil applications made in the High Court in July last year by Samuel Seow Law Corp (SSLC), the local law firm that represents the two studios.

Last year, SSLC again served papers on Singtel, StarHub and M1 to get details of alleged pirates of Fathers & Daughters and Queen Of The Desert, with a list of over 500 offending Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. The AGC and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) said they highlighted to the court that SSLC did not submit “sufficient evidence” to show a link between the IP addresses and alleged illegal downloaders. It was on such grounds that the case was dismissed.

It’s an important decision in the country, with the High Court cementing the position that IP addresses are not sufficient evidence with which to demand account information over infringement issues. That the practical use for that account information would have been the type of sleazy settlement demands that have become the norm in copyright trolling circles may have played a role in the decision, but it need not have. Viewed solely on its merits, there are any number of ways an internet connection might be used for copyright infringement by someone other than the owner of the internet account: shared WiFi, brute force break-ins into the connection, etc. The simple fact is that knowing an IP address that was used for infringement doesn’t tell anyone who did the actual infringing. Viewed that way, compelling ISPs to turn over personal account information based solely on IP addresses is crazy.

Some IP attorneys are already whining about the decision.

Mr Lau Kok Keng, an IP lawyer at Rajah & Tann Singapore, said requiring the rights owner to link the IP address to the actual infringer is akin to “putting the cart before the horse” – copyright holders need to know who the account holder is to ascertain if he is the actual pirate.

“So it could mean that individuals who illegally download copyright content will be able to get off scot-free because their identities will never be known, short of being caught in the act,” said Mr Lau.

Which is much to do about nothing, given that, again, the infringing party might not be the IP address owner to begin with. What the copyright trolls are really looking for are essentially lead lists for settlement letters. They don’t really care if the recipient of those letters is the infringer or not, they care if they can scare enough people into paying settlements to make money.

In that light, it’s nice to see a government get it right on this question about IP addresses as evidence, even if we have to look all the way to Singapore to see it.

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Comments on “Singapore Court Tosses Copyright Troll Cases Because IP Addresses Aren't Good Enough Evidence”

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TKnarr (profile) says:

Mr. Lau’s right in that you generally start with just the IP address (because that’s all that exists at the network level) and need to work from that which means going to the owner of the account that was using that address at that time to find out the actual person who was using the account’s connection at the time. If cases are thrown out merely because an IP address is all the plaintiff has at the start, that’s pretty much equivalent to prohibiting all complaints about on-line copyright infringement and that’d be wrong.

Where the problem lies isn’t with starting with just an IP address, it’s with cases where the sheer number of alleged defendants makes it clear the plaintiffs don’t intend to pursue actual cases. Cases should start with a (relatively) small number of addresses which have some relationship to each other (eg. their reverse-lookups or traceroutes result in names indicating they’re all in the same geographic region and the court you’re filing in has jurisdiction over that region), should be for something reasonable (eg. "All we can identify based on the IP address is the account holder and we need to question the account holder to identify the actual infringer.") and most importantly should state up-front the basis for believing infringement has occurred (ie. "We downloaded and viewed the file ourselves and it is in fact a full copy of our film." rather than "It’s got a name that vaguely resembles the title of our film.").

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Oh if you want real humor just check the comment section of an article talking about how a label/studio screwed over an artist using sleazy contracts.

Suddenly the ‘piracy is a horrible crime because it takes money away from it’s rightful owner, the artist!’ types are tripping over themselves to say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with screwing an artist over with a contract that gives them pocket change(if that) while the studio/label rakes in the money, and anyway, if the artist doesn’t like the deal it’s their fault for buying the lies told to them and not expecting the other party to do everything possible to hose them over.

While I’m sure there are people who defend the law because they really are interested in the artists, with a good many others you don’t have to scratch the surface very deep at all to get them to reveal who they’re actually interested in ‘protecting’, and how it’s anything but those ‘poor, victimized creators’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Pre Internet, copyright was only useful when transferred to an old school publisher, for whatever terms were available, which also allowed them to gather the bulk of the profits. The real reason that the old school publishers hate the Internet, is that it allows many more people to self publish, competing with the few creators that they manage to sign, and to to have a chance of making a living via the likes of Patreon if they can build a fan base of 100,00 plus. Piracy is just the excuse that they have latched onto as a lever to try and gain control over the Internet, so as to regain control over who can publish.

Wyrm (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Another important point: pre-internet, copyright covered only a few uses of copying to publish/broadcast content and it involved only the few people who had the means to mass-copy something.

Now it covers a lot more and involves everyone. (Not even mentioning how the copyright holders try to make it cover even more, such as hyperlinking.)

So a law made to apply to a few commercial actors became an everyday concern to everyone. And it’s so convoluted that you can infringe someone’s rights without realizing it. In some places (USA), you can become liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars without any proof that you actually “damaged” anyone’s commercial opportunity.

DMCA helped a little, but it was built so full of flaws that what it helped with (making service providers less liable) also came with a lot that made the situation worse (forcing near-automatic removal of content, where only big players can afford to try and filter requests).

Copyright has become a crazy thing that can ruin anyone’s life… probably because both copyright industry and politicians hate the internet. (Remember how the radio, tv, audio tapes, video tapes and cd were banned? Me neither. Copyright Industry asked for it but were denied. Why did they get it when it came to some internet technologies?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, what TKnarr points out is a start. It shows an honest attempt to get the right person, which is more than can be said of most copyright enforcement.

But that nuance sails over your head, because you’re too busy worrying about staff posting on the site they run… on a website you claim is losing traffic and significance it never had.

hij (profile) says:

Catching them in the act is hard!

"So it could mean that individuals who illegally download copyright content will be able to get off scot-free because their identities will never be known, short of being caught in the act," said Mr Lau.

It must really suck to be a part of a legal system in which you actually have to catch someone in the act of breaking the law in order to prove that the person broke the law. Madness!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Well, no actually

Mr Lau Kok Keng, an IP lawyer at Rajah & Tann Singapore, said requiring the rights owner to link the IP address to the actual infringer is akin to "putting the cart before the horse" – copyright holders need to know who the account holder is to ascertain if he is the actual pirate.

Knowing who the account holder tells them… who the account holder is. Unless they want to start searching any and all electronic devices after that point to look for evidence(and even that wouldn’t necessarily matter depending on the law firm), having that knowledge doesn’t get them any closer to knowing if said account holder is guilty of infringement.

If I believed that they wanted the information in order to proceed with an actual lawsuit, I might be slightly sympathetic, but as vast majority of cases I’ve seen regarding such things have not included lawsuits, but instead went straight from ‘Obtain identifying information’ to ‘Assume guilt, send letter threatening lawsuit if target doesn’t pay up’, at this point my default assumption on such cases is that no lawsuit is intended and it’s just a way to get a quick buck, meaning my sympathy is rather lacking.

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