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Judge: An IP Address Is NOT A Person

The battle between copyright holders and BitTorrent users may have taken a sharp turn in favor of the alleged copyright infringers thanks to a recent ruling filed by Illinois District Judge Harold Baker. Friday he said that IP addresses do not equal persons, and thus prevented an adult film studio from accessing personal data tied to IP addresses.

In the case VPR Internationale v. Does 1-1017, Judge Baker denied adult film studio VPR Internationale the means to subpoena ISPs for personal information connected to IP addresses. His reason was based on the recent child porn incident where a man was wrongfully apprehended and accused of downloading child pornography when in fact it was his neighbor leeching from his unprotected Wi-Fi network at home.

Based on that incident, the unnamed copyright infringers accused in VPR Internationale's lawsuit may have had nothing to do with the alleged offense, but instead was "piggybacked" by the real offenders who possibly leeched from their unsecured Wi-Fi connections. "The infringer might be the subscriber, someone in the subscriber’s household, a visitor with her laptop, a neighbor, or someone parked on the street at any given moment,” Judge Baker wrote in his ruling last Friday.

The matter becomes even more delicate when it involves the sharing of adult films. "Orin Kerr, a professor at George Washington University Law School, noted that whether you’re guilty or not, you look like a suspect," he wrote. "Could expedited discovery be used to wrest quick settlements, even from people who have done nothing wrong? The embarrassment of public exposure might be too great, the legal system too daunting and expensive, for some [innocent victims] to ask whether the plaintiff VPR has competent evidence to prove its case."

The judge concluded his ruling stating that the court isn't going to support "fishing expeditions" for subscribers' details if there is no evidence that the court has jurisdiction over the defendants. "Until at least one person is served, the court lacks personal jurisdiction over anyone," he said. "The court has no jurisdiction over any of the Does at this time."

Baker's ruling could spell the end of "pay-up-or-else-schemes" that have previously nailed more than 100,000 U.S.-based BitTorrent users to the wall over the past year alone. It may also be the end of all future John Doe lawsuits if other judges reach the same conclusion in their file-sharing cases.

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