United States Federal Judges are sending mixed messages when it comes to the legality of forcing ISPs to fork over customer information.
Days after one District Court Judge rules against the right to subpoena ISPs, another has granted a motion allowing copyright infringement litigators the power to do just that.
C'mon guys, you've gotta have a team meeting or something.
U.S. Copyright group has won a motion to subpoena ISPs to find out the identities of over 23,000 people who downloaded the dream-team-of-ass-kicking action movie The Expendables. The subpoenas would ask Alltel, AT&T, Atlantic, BellSouth, Comcast, Insight, Road Runner, Sprint, Verizon and more to turn over the identities of specific IP addresses attached to P2P sharers in February and March of this year. Straight from the ruling itself:
It is hereby ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Take Discovery Prior to the Rule 26(f) Conference is GRANTED. ORDERED that Plaintiff is allowed to serve immediate discovery on the internet service providers (ISPs) listed in Exhibit C to Plaintiff’s Motion to obtain the identity of each Doe Defendant, including those Doe Defendants for which Plaintiff has already identified an Internet Protocol (IP) address and those Doe Defendants for which Plaintiff identifies IP addresses during the course of this litigation, by serving a Rule 45 subpoena that seeks information sufficient to identify each Defendant, including name, current (and permanent) addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, and Media Access Control addresses, and the ISPs shall respond to such subpoenas.
U.S. Copyright group has become quite famous recently for their suits on behalf of independent film makers. They monitor BitTorrent use of specific films, take down IP addresses then sue to subpoena ISPs to release information on the customers tied to those IP addresses. Many times they will offer settlements of $1,000 to $3,000 to those involved in P2P sharing of the films.
So this ruling is an obvious victory for copyright infringement litigators. But this ruling is not the only one this week that pertains to ISP subpoenas. Earlier, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baker denied a similar request, labeling it a "fishing expedition."
This time it was VPR, a Canadian porn producer that was targeting 1017 people. Bakers ruling explained that knowing the IP address where downloading is occurring is not the same thing as knowing the person responsible for the downloading.
Since often times people steal wi-fi from their neighbors and multiple people in households use the same IP, it is not a particularly solid method to prove guilt.
That ruling is in direct conflict with today's Expendables ruling. It is clear that two federal judges looked at the exact same issue and came to completely different conclusions. I wonder if appeals tactics could already site precedence that IP addresses do not equal people.
This latest ruling OK's the biggest torrent case ever. The second largest targets 15,500 downloaders of various pornos. The judge in that case has yet to rule on the subpoena issue.
Hat tip to Wired.