For a short while the makers of The Expendables had the questionable honor of having embarked upon the biggest file-sharing lawsuit the world has ever witnessed.
A massive list of 23,322 U.S. Internet users were targeted by the film studio NU Image, all of which were suspected of downloading and sharing the Hollywood blockbuster using BitTorrent. The movie studio later lost this record to The Hurt Locker makers, but their case was still very significant.
In a recent order District Court Judge Robert Wilkins ruled that NU Image can only go after those individuals who are reasonably likely to be living in the District of Columbia. This means that the movie studio can’t send any subpoenas to ISPs when the IP-addresses are located in other districts.
“Plaintiff has only shown good cause for, and will only be entitled to discovery related to, those John Does for whom there is a good faith basis to believe may reside in the District of Columbia,” Wilkins writes.
As a result, well over 99 percent of the defendants are off the hook.
The main reasoning behind the decision is that the alleged infringement has to take place in the district people are sued in, which is only the case for a small percentage of the defendants. Where and to whom the files are uploaded after that is irrelevant, the Judge argues.
The Judge advises NU Image to use one of the many IP-location databases to find out who they can go after in his court.
“Plaintiff can establish such a good faith basis for residence or personal jurisdiction by utilizing geolocation services that are generally available to the public to derive the approximate location of the IP addresses identified for each punitive defendant,” he writes.
Previously Nu Image had claimed that these IP-lookup services are far from accurate, but Judge Wilkins contests this. He states that the movie studio selectively quoted an online resource to make it look like the data is useless, which it is not.
By doing so they left out the paragraph below:
Even when not accurate, though, geolocation can place users in a bordering city, which may be good enough for the entity seeking the information. This happens because a common method for geolocating a device is referencing its IP address against similar IP addresses with already known locations.
“It therefore appears that while these geolocation services are not 100% accurate, these services can place a user no farther away than a city that borders the user’s actual location,” the Judge wrote replying to NU Image’s attempt to mislead the court.
TorrentFreak took up the Judge’s suggestion and ran the 23,322 IP-addresses through a IP-location database to find out how many defendants would remain. We found that of all IP-addresses listed as defendants only 84 are likely to belong to persons in the District of Columbia.
This means that the remaining 23,238 individuals are no longer at risk in this particular lawsuit.
If other judges side with Wilkins, these pay-up-or-else schemes may become increasingly more expensive. Suing defendants in multiple districts is not how the copyright lawyers and their clients would like to work, so they will have to get more creative to get the information they need.
Until then, this ruling can be counted as a win for the alleged BitTorrent users.