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.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: copyright, copyright trolls, ip addresses, singapore

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    TKnarr (profile), 21 Apr 2017 @ 2:02pm

    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.").

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...

Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.