Alex Goldman is a producer for On the Media. One time he got run over by a car.
Your IP and their IP
Thursday, September 01, 2011 - 11:13 AM
Typically, when companies file lawsuits are filed against people for infringing on their intellectual property, they don’t actually name the defendents. Instead, they sue a group of John Does, and subpoena the identities of the defendants from their internet service providers. This practice has always been controversial, and defendants are starting to challenge this method of identification in court.
The way these companies typically find people to sue works like this:
- Typically, they'll hire a third party company to monitor BitTorrent, to see who is downloading their intellectual property illegally.
- The only identifying mark illegal downloaders leave on BitTorrent is their Internet Protocol address or IP address. This is a number that identifies your internet connection to the rest of the internet. iIf you want to see yours, you can go to a site like whatismyip.com.
- The lawyers then file a lawsuit against thousands of John Does, and subpoena the user's real name from their internet service provider (ISP).
- Once the lawyers have the real name of the defendant, they send out letters threatening lawsuits, and usually settle out of court or dismiss the case entirely. Only a handful of cases actually make it to trial.
Some of these lawsuits name tens of thousands of John Does; critics call them "fishing trips." If the law firms can get just a few thousand plaintiffs to settle out of court for a nominal fee (typically between $5,000-$10,000), the lawyers and the owners of the intellectual property can make a tidy sum.
The problem with this tactic is that the users who get sued frequently claim that they have no knowledge of the infringed work. These cases are sometimes made against places like hospitals and hotels that offer public wi-fi to anyone who walks through their doors. In the case of individuals who are sued, it's totally within the realm of possibility that a houseguest may have used their internet connection to download illegally, or even that someone may stolen their wifi from out on the street.
Nate Anderson of the website Ars Technica has collected a list of objections to a recent filing by the law firm Dunlap Grubb and Weaver (who run The US Copyright Group, previously discussed on our show) against people who had allegedly downloaded pirated copies of the movie The Hurt Locker. Anderson writes: "Confusion is palpable in many of them, as people wonder why they’re being targeted and struggle to figure out what an 'open WiFi network' is and why it might cause them problems."
Obviously, just because the people who have been sued claim no knowledge of the infringement, doesn't mean that these illegal downloads didn't take place from the address in question. It does, however, raise questions about the validity and even the usefulness of this tactic in pursuing piracy.
(via Ars Technica - hat tip to Nate Anderson for help writing this article.)