While relatively underreported, many U.S. district courts are still swamped with lawsuits against alleged film pirates.
One of the newcomers this year are the makers of the action movie Manny. Over the past few months “Manny Film” has filed 215 lawsuits across several districts.
Like all copyright holders, the makers of the film rely on IP-addresses as evidence. They then ask the courts to grant a subpoena, forcing Internet providers to hand over the personal details of the associated account holders.
In most cases the courts sign off on these requests, but in Florida this isn’t as straightforward.
When District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro was assigned a Manny Film case she asked the company to explain how an IP-address can pinpoint the actual person who downloaded a pirated film. In addition, she asked them to show that geolocation tools are good enough to prove that the alleged pirate resides in the Court’s district.
In a detailed reply the filmmakers argued that IP-addresses can identify the defendant and that a refusal to grant a subpoena would set a “dangerous precedent.” Manny Film further stated that “all other courts” disagreed with the notion that an IP-address is not a person.
This last remark didn’t go down well with Judge Ungaro. In an order handed down this week she cites various cases where courts ruled that IP-addresses don’t always identify the alleged offenders.
“Due to the risk of ‘false positives,’ an allegation that an IP address is registered to an individual is not sufficient in and of itself to support a claim that the individual is guilty of infringement,” wrote the Judge citing a 2012 case, one of many examples.
The referenced cases clearly refute Manny Film’s claim that all other courts disagreed with the Judge Ungaro’s concerns, and the Judge is not convinced by any of the other arguments either.
“As in those cases, Plaintiff here fails to show how geolocation software can establish the identity of the Defendant. Specifically, there is nothing linking the IP address location to the identity of the person actually downloading and viewing the copy righted material and nothing establishing that the person actually lives in this district,” Judge Ungaro writes.
“Even if this IP address is located within a residence, geolocation software cannot identify who have access to that residence’s computer and who would actually be using it to infringe Plaintiff’s copyright,” she adds.
As a result, the Court refused to issue a subpoena and dismissed the case against IP-address 188.8.131.52 for improper venue.
While not all judges may come to the same conclusion, the order makes it harder for rightholders to play their “copyright troll” scheme in the Southern District of Florida. At the same time, it provides future defendants with a good overview to fight similar claims elsewhere.