Often in copyright infringement cases, particularly those that deal with piracy, copyright owners seek to not only determine an Internet Protocol (IP) address, a numerical value that identifies a computer, behind the infringing activity, but also the actual, individual person behind the computer. The source for the identifying information is usually the Internet Service Provider (ISP), such as Comcast, AT&T, or RCN. Attorneys for copyright owners in these cases often serve subpoenas on the ISP to obtain the account holder’s name, address, and other contact information. Once the ISP responds to the subpoena, the copyright owners names those account holders personally in suits for infringement.

However, a recent copyright infringement case in the United Stated District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle may change that practice. This case addressed a claim of copyright infringement by the makers of the movie Elf-Man against hundreds of users pirating the firm using BitTorrent. The movie studio alleged that the IP address assigned to each alleged infringer shared a single pirated version of the film, stating that the defendants either downloaded the pirated film themselves or permitted, facilitated, or promoted the use of their Internet connections by others to download the film.

Ruling on a motion to dismiss by one of the defendants, the judge ruled that IP address evidence does not prove that an account holder is guilty of copyright infringement. The judge added that evidence consisting only of an IP address is insufficient to plead a claim of copyright infringement. Further, the judge stated, “[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…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.”

This decision has important implications for identifying future infringers, particularly for firms such as Lilenfeld PC, which focus only on intellectual property. It is something we will be keeping our eyes on for precedent in our home jurisdiction. If you have any questions about a potential copyright infringement claim, please contact David Lilenfeld or Sonia Lakhany.

David Lilenfeld