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.