updated 04:15 pm EST, Thu January 23, 2014
New ruling speaks towards weakness of IP address as a definite identification
In a ruling likely to complicate mass-piracy lawsuits, a judge in Washington state tossed out a lawsuit accusing eight "John Does" and four named individuals of illegally downloading the movie Elf-Man. The presiding judge has declared that an IP address alone isn't sufficient to identify a user, and lacks sufficient granularity of identity to sue the possessor for copyright infringement.
"[The movie studio] has actually alleged no more than that the named defendants purchased Internet access and failed to ensure that others did not use that access to download copyrighted material," Washington District Judge Robert Lasnik ruled. "Simply identifying the account holder associated with an IP address tells us very little about who actually downloaded Elf-Man using that IP address." Lasnik added that "While it is possible that the subscriber is the one who participated in the BitTorrent swarm, it is also possible that a family member, guest, or freeloader engaged in the infringing conduct."
The ruling notes that a public-facing IP address isn't the same as a user identity, which the distributors of Elf-Man failed to properly identify. Of the 122 unknown individuals sued by the movie distributor, four were named by ISPs, with eight others left unnamed. The eight users unnamed by the ISPs had their suits dismissed for lack of an actual named defendant, with the four remaining in the suit dismissed by the ruling on January 17.
While the case has been dismissed, the plaintiff can re-file it. However, Judge Lasnik noted in his closing paragraph of the ruling that "given the procedural posture of this case, it is doubtful that plaintiff has facts to support the allegations of personal involvement and/or intent on which its claims rely. Nevertheless, it may have additional information regarding individual defendants that would provide the necessary heft to its factual allegations and should be given an opportunity to remedy the deficiencies identified by the Court." The Elf-Man producers have until February 1 to re-file the case with additional information.