Stoffa: An IP address does not identify a particular person

Gabriel Stoffa

There has been a war going on regarding downloading material from the Internet. Who is to blame for what alleged crimes regarding copyrighted material, user privacy and other matters stemming from the sharing of information in the Internet is a conflict not likely soon to be resolved.

The Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America have been up in arms for years trying to make certain those seemingly innocuous downloads your average Joe might grab are stopped before revenue is compromised for the entertainment biz.

Whether you believe the RIAA and MPAA are being greedy or not, court proceedings have been occurring and folks have been nailed for sharing information across the net. Not all of those slapped with lawsuits were necessarily given the proper due process of law.

A bombshell of a case has dropped in the battle for how to identify someone partaking of illegal information sharing.

Gary Brown, magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of New York, ruled in a lawsuit concerning BitTorrent that an IP address is not sufficient evidence to identify a person.

“An IP address provides only the location at which one of any number of computer devices may be deployed, much like a telephone number can be used for any number of telephones,” according to the court ruling.

“Thus, it is no more likely that the subscriber to an IP address carried out a particular computer function — here the purported illegal downloading of a single pornographic film — than to say an individual who pays the telephone bill made a specific telephone call.”

Many households do not have secured wireless network connection, so anyone within range can piggyback on and partake of questionable activities involving information sharing.

Yes, it is a little silly not to password protect your connection in this day and age, but that isn’t a requirement. Attempting to pin an alleged crime on someone because they might not understand very well how networking works or might just be kind enough to actually want to allow other folks access to the Internet is not a crime.

As such, handing out a subpoena to Internet providers for information concerning an IP address holder is, as Brown said, a “waste of judicial resources.”

For all of you out there cheering and hopping back onto your favorite torrent search engine, remember that this ruling does not make downloading shared information legal.

This case sets a bar for future events across the country to play to when it comes to potential personal information subpoenas regarding a particular IP address. It is entirely possible when this issue, or a similar one, hits the U.S.  Supreme Court level — hopefully this whole problem will be resolved in the next few years, though unlikely — that it could be quashed.

If you support information sharing and like to show your support through participation, just remember that as of now you can still be hit with lawsuits for sharing certain material. A small battle was won, but the war wages on.

If you want some unsolicited advice, check out the Pirate Party for a group fighting for reform of intellectual property and privacy laws. Through political action, making your voice heard, this whole shared information debacle might just be able to have an ending that allows all people to be safe and happy when it comes to Internet use.

OK, some greedy corporations won’t be happy, but screw them; corporations shouldn’t be regarded as people anyway.

But besides all the empowerment rhetoric, listing Pirate Party as your political affiliation is friggin’ cool.