Court Denies Filmmakers’ Renewed Attempt to Get Redditors’ IP Addresses

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Reddit is not required to hand over to filmmakers the IP-addresses of several Redditors who made piracy-related comments. A California federal court denied the filmmakers' request for a 'de novo' review, after turning down their initial request in February. While this is bad news for the movie companies, a viable alternative appeared recently.

reddit-logoReddit has gone head-to-head with a group of filmmakers over the past year, aiming to protect the privacy of its users.

In three separate cases, the filmmakers subpoenaed Reddit for details of users who commented on various piracy related topics.

The movie companies said they were not planning to go after these people in court but wanted to use their comments as evidence in ongoing piracy liability lawsuits against Internet providers.

Reddit viewed the requests as intrusive. The company objected to the initial attempt, arguing that handing over the requested information would violate its users’ right to anonymous speech. Reddit later responded similarly to a second and third subpoena request.

The movie companies took these cases to a federal court, asking it to compel Reddit to comply. The court refused to do so, three times already.

Filmmakers Request ‘De Novo’ Review

The film companies were not happy with the denials and refused to give up. When U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Hixson denied their most recent attempt in February, relating to the case against ISP Frontier Communications, they moved for a ‘de novo’ review at a California federal court.

In their motion, the rightsholders cited jurisprudence suggesting that an IP address is not necessarily ‘unmasking’ personally identifying information. They argued that the magistrate judge ignored key arguments and arrived at the wrong conclusion.

The companies stressed that the commenters could prove crucial in their battle against ISP Frontier. Among other things, the court’s suggestion that there might be other ways to obtain similar evidence was premature, they said.

Reddit’s Objections

As expected, Reddit objected to the request for a ‘de novo’ review. The company argued that, as the court repeatedly found, the filmmakers have other non-intrusive options to gather evidence against Frontier, including seeking evidence from the ISP and its subscribers directly.

Reddit further noted that the filmmakers’ argument that IP-addresses do not “identify” users is misguided at best.

“Reddit does not require its users to give their real name or addresses, and so the only identifying information Reddit may maintain on its users is their IP address, which is precisely why the Movants here seek the users’ IP addresses. If IP addresses were not identifying, Movants would not be seeking them.”

At worst, the argument is disingenuous, Reddit wrote. The movie companies previously used a Redditor’s IP address to obtain the name and address of a subscriber, requesting their torrenting history and more.

“[A]fter Reddit provided Movants with IP address data for a single Reddit user last year, the Movants immediately identified that IP address by subpoenaing T-Mobile, and they have been harassing that user with motions practice ever since,” Reddit countered.

Court Denies ‘De Novo’ Review

After reviewing these and other arguments, this week the court sided with Reddit. In a single sentence, without further detail, U.S. District Court Judge James Donato denied the request for ‘de novo’ review.

“The motion for de novo determination of the motion to enforce the subpoena is denied, and the magistrate judge’s order is affirmed, for the reasons stated on the record,” Judge Donato writes.

de novo denies

Paired with the earlier rejections and denials, it’s clear that courts are hesitant to allow discovery of Redditors’ private information in connection with these non-party lawsuits.

The filmmakers have proven to be persistent and can appeal this outcome, or file yet another case. However, recent developments seem to have lowered the need to take further action related to the Frontier case.

Filmmakers Have an Alternative Now

The movie companies previously stressed that the Redditors could prove to be of key importance, since they had difficulty obtaining the required evidence from Frontier subscribers directly. However, that may have changed.

Frontier previously redacted the personal details of its subscribers, when filmmakers asked for information in their piracy liability lawsuit. Earlier this month, however, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the ISP to share these subscriber details in full.

The court concluded that, with proper safeguards, the interests of copyright holders weigh stronger than the privacy interests of Frontier subscribers.

These Frontier subscribers are materially different from the Redditors, as their alleged piracy activities, monitored via their IP addresses, are at the heart of the liability lawsuit against the ISP.

The unredacted information of Frontier subscribers should help the movie and music companies link the IP addresses to Frontier subscribers, which is required to establish the direct infringement claim and hold Frontier liable.

As for the safeguards, the court stressed that the filmmakers can’t harass the subscribers. It further stressed that their personal information can only be used for the Frontier lawsuit, adding that the highly confidential information should be destroyed 30 days after the proceedings conclude.

Whether the filmmakers will get the evidence they’re looking for remainsto be seen. That said, the ‘anonymous speech’ of the piracy-commenting Redditors remains well protected.


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