Verizon Refuses to Identify Alleged BitTorrent Pirates

In its lawsuits against hundreds of alleged BitTorrent users, book publisher John Wiley and Sons has met unexpected resistance from Internet provider Verizon. For a variety of reasons including privacy concerns, the ISP is refusing to comply with a subpoena which orders the company to hand over the personal details of subscribers who are accused of pirating "For Dummies" books.

verizonLast fall, John Wiley and Sons became the first book publisher to go after BitTorrent users in the US.

By filing a mass-BitTorrent lawsuit the company became one of the many copyright holders who together have sued a quarter million people in the country since early 2010. In recent months, Wiley has continued to file yet more suits against alleged BitTorrent pirates.

Up until recently Wiley has enjoyed an easy ride in court. In several cases the New York federal court was quick to allow the book publisher to subpoena Internet providers for the personal details of account holders. With these details, Wiley can then approach the defendants and negotiate an out-of-court settlement.

But not if it’s up to Verizon.

While most Internet providers generally don’t object to a court-ordered subpoena, Verizon has refused to hand over the personal details of accused subscribers. One of the reasons given by Verizon is that Wiley is demanding the information for improper purposes, namely “to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation.”

In addition, the Internet provider doubts whether the subpoena will lead to the discovery of “relevant information.” In other words, Verizon seems to doubt that the person who pays for the account is also the infringer.

This issue was also raised by New York Judge Gary Brown in another case last week, in which he concluded that an IP-address is not a person. In his order Brown argued that in mass-BitTorrent lawsuits it is simply unknown whether the person linked to the IP-address has anything to do with the alleged copyright infringements.

Besides the two points above Verizon makes five more objections, including concerns over privacy. The company asserts that Wiley is seeking “information that is protected from disclosure by third parties’ rights of privacy and protections guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

For its part, Wiley is not convinced by Verizon’s protest and has asked the court to compel Verizon to respond to the subpoenas. To discuss the issue, Judge Katherine Forrest has scheduled a telephone conference for early next week.

Verizon’s objection is noteworthy because the action is not borne merely out of self-interest. Previously Time Warner also objected to mass-BitTorrent subpoenas where they had to produce the details of thousands of subscribers, arguing that this process was too time consuming.

However, in this case the burden on the ISP is relatively low, as Wiley says it only asked for the details of 10 account holders for which Verizon would receive compensation of $45 each.

Should Judge Katherine Forrest agree with Verizon’s objections it would be a serious blow to Wiley’s ongoing litigation campaign against BitTorrent users in the Southern District of New York.

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