Here's something to keep in mind: never bring your laptop or desktop while house-sitting for a friend, especially if you're storing movies and music downloaded via file-sharing networks.
In December 2010, a man identified only as "Martin" was house-sitting for an unnamed friend. It was early in the morning when the doorbell began to ring. Draped in a blanket, he dragged himself through the house, half-asleep and sluggish from playing video games long into the early hours. His sleepy demeanor quickly subsided when he opened to door to see three men standing before him, one of them holding up a badge before his face.
Immediately he thought something happened to his friend.
But that wasn't the case. The police came knocking on the door due a warrant to seize all the computers in the house and arrest Martin's friend due to file sharing accusations. They weren't there for Martin, but in the rush to disconnect network cables, yank out hard drives and lug desktops out to the police van, they decided to take his laptop as well.
It was the case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
A few weeks after the police initially stormed his friend's house, Martin received a call from the local police, requiring that he come in for an interview. It was then they informed him that 200 illegally-obtained movies had been discovered on his personal rig, and that he was now being pursued for illegal file-sharing.
"It is now suspected that he downloaded and uploaded particular films,” explained Frederick Ingblad, the prosecutor handling the case. He acknowledged that the police were originally looking for Martin's friend, but as previously stated, Martin happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Given the charges he now faces, Martin seems unusually optimistic. "My friends think that I had bad luck," Martin said. "I hardly know anyone who does not share files, since you have always been able to get what you want. Still, I think the law is right."
Both Martin and his friend stand accused of copyright infringement. Their indictments are expected to arrive sometime this summer.
It's possible that the cases may be dismissed, as a judge previously ruled that an IP address does not equal to a human being. His ruling was based on a recent police raid where a man was falsely accused of downloading child porn, but in fact the culprit was actually a neighbor accessing his unsecured Wi-Fi home network. "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," the judge said.
Had the copyright holder been denied access to the friend's personal information based on IP address alone, they would have never seized Martin's notebook in the first place.