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NY magistrate judge: IP addresses not an effective way to identify alleged pirates

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A New York magistrate judge has ruled that it's not practical to use IP addresses alone to identify individuals accused of piracy, comparing it to assuming that an individual that pays for a telephone landline is directly responsible for every phone call made on the line.


Using IP addresses to track down and identify individuals accused of pirating copyrighted material is a common practice in many lawsuits, but New York Magistrate Judge Gary Brown sees things a little differently. Ruling this week on a case over the alleged piracy of several adult films via BitTorrent, Brown wrote that "the assumption that the person who pays for Internet access at a given location is the same individual who allegedly downloaded a... film is tenuous, and one that has grown more so over time." Citing the fact that multiple users will often share a single internet connection — and its associated IP address — he compared the scenario to asserting that whoever pays for a telephone landline is responsible for making every call originating from said line. The introduction of Wi-Fi into the equation, where unsecured wireless routers can allow literally anyone to piggyback onto a given internet connection, makes the use of IP addresses alone even more problematic.

It's important to note that this is just a single magistrate judge, and this ruling alone doesn't carry the kind of precedent-setting oomph a ruling from an appellate, or higher, court would. Still, it's a welcome bit of sanity, and we can't help but hope that as the nuances of internet access become more commonly known to regular humans — and judges — that we'll see this kind of opinion prevailing more often.