People have a lot of bad things to say about ISPs, but we should give them credit when they do something pro-consumer. Remember when Verizon refused to comply with a subpoena that sought the identities behind IP addresses? That was pretty awesome and pro-consumer. Another major ISP has joined Verizon in protecting consumers’ identities.
TorrentFreak reports that Comcast has requested that the court quash the subpoenas being used in an Illinois District Court. The subpoenas, like others before it, are demanding that Comcast identify the people behind the IP addresses that have been found downloading content over BitTorrent. The reasoning behind the quash respect is sound which Comcast’s lawyers lay out in easy to understand terms.
They argue that the subpoenas are “overbroad and exceed the boundaries of fair discovery.” As for the other argument, let’s have Comcast speak for themselves:
Third, plaintiffs should not be allowed to profit from unfair litigation tactics whereby they use the offices of the Court as an inexpensive means to gain Doe defendants’ personal information and coerce “settlements” from them. It is evident in these cases – and the multitude of cases filed by plaintiffs and other pornographers represented by their counsel – that plaintiffs have no interest in actually litigating their claims against the Doe defendants, but simply seek to use the Court and its subpoena powers to obtain sufficient information to shake down the Doe defendants. The Federal Rules require the Court to deny discovery “to protect a party or personfrom annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.” This case requires such relief.
Interestingly enough, AF Holdings accuses the defendants of participating in a BitTorrent “swarm.” The idea here is that everybody who downloaded a movie from AF Holdings did so together with the intention of turning around and seeding it as soon as they had finished downloading it. It seems that pornography studios don’t understand the Internet and how BitTorrent works, but Comcast apparently does.
The plaintiffs allege in their complaints that the Doe defendants “took concerted action” and “were collectively engaged in the conspiracy even if they were not engaged in the swarm contemporaneously.” However, courts have found that “[m]uch of the BitTorrent protocol operates invisibly to the user after downloading a file, subsequent uploading takes place automatically if the user fails to close the program.” Simply alleging the use of BitTorrent technology … does not comport with the requirements under Rule 20(a) for permissive joinder.”
If accepted by the court, it would help shape the definition of what kind of BitTorrent activity is actually considering piracy. A lot of people don’t find the act of downloading content illegally over BitTorrent to actually be piracy, but the act of uploading the content to share is. The problem comes from the fact that many BitTorrent clients automatically set the user to share the content over BitTorrent upon finishing the download.
In short, this case is absolutely fascinating. Unlike Verizon who just refused the subpoena, Comcast is making a great argument for the rights of their subscribers and BitTorrent users everywhere. We’ll keep watching the case to see what verdict the judge returns. Either way, it’s encouraging to see ISPs fighting for consumer rights. Now if they could just get rid of data caps.