Open Wi-Fi Is Not a Crime, BitTorrent Case Judge Hears

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Defending the right to run an open wireless network, an accused BitTorrent user has written to a court explaining that his actions do not constitute a crime. The Doe further highlighted how mass-BitTorrent lawsuits are used to harass Internet users based on shoddy evidence. The anti-piracy lawyers in question suspect foul play, and claim the letter was not sent by one of the Does, but by a pro-piracy organization.

wifiMass litigation “pay up or else” anti-piracy schemes continue to keep United States courts busy. The total of Internet subscribers who have been accused of sharing copyrighted material is nearing 200,000, and new cases are being filed every week.

More than a year after the first case was filed there is still very little consensus in the rulings handed down by various judges. Some simply side with the copyright holders, allowing them to contact the Internet providers of the alleged infringers to obtain their personal details. Other judges have dropped cases, arguing that they were filed in the wrong jurisdiction or that an IP-address is not a person.

Hoping to get a case at the Indiana Southern District Court dropped as well, a Doe who saw his IP address listed in the court documents wrote to the judge. The case in question is Hard Drive Productions vs. Does 1-21, which accuses 21 does of sharing adult content via BitTorrent.

Most of the judges have no clue that the copyright holders who file these lawsuits are not really seeking a full trial, but merely want to collect settlements. The Doe in question explains this in the letter to the judge, and adds that the evidence the copyright holders claim to have is highly unreliable.

“These lawsuits have been rife with shoddy ‘evidence’ accumulation and wrongful harassment of Internet subscribers with no effort or evidence to identify the actual infringer behind an I.P. address rather than just demanding money from the person registered as the subscriber of the Internet connection,” the letter begins.

In his letter the Doe further stresses that running an open wireless network is not a crime, weakening the claims of the copyright holders even further. People have the right to offer an open connection to outsiders. There is no law that prohibits it and there are several wireless routers that have a second (unsecured) connection as a feature.

“I hope and plead with you to consider the interests of neighbors in being able to have friends over with their laptops without having to draw up legal agreements and waivers before they can connect to the Internet and share our I.P. address.

“Not all unsecured networks are due to a lack of technical knowledge. Some of us leave them open to friends and others out of a sense of community. An Internet connection is an important thing for people today, for better or for worse. I fear that we are on our way to having Internet connections become like so many things in our country that must be locked up and hidden out of fear an intimidation,” the letter continues.

Doe’s letter

The Doe in question is right. Unless an Internet provider explicitly forbids unsecured wireless networks there is nothing wrong with running one. The person who pays for the account is not automatically responsible for all those who use it, but allowing copyright holders to continue their pay-up-or else scheme does put account holders at risk.

The letter sent by the Doe didn’t go unnoticed by the anti-piracy lawyers. Interestingly, however, their response didn’t dispute any of the arguments put forward, but merely discredited the source of the letter. According to attorney Raphael Whitford, the judge is being misled by pro-piracy activists.

“It is highly unlikely that this letter was written by one of the defendants in this case as the writer proclaims. The complaint was filed on May 20th and the anonymous letter was written less than two weeks later, before any discovery action was taken by plaintiff.”

“It is difficult to imagine one of the defendants stumbling across the exhibit attached to the complaint, and identifying their own IP address as one listed, in that timeframe. Counsel for the Plaintiff believes the letter to be submitted by a pro-piracy organization with an agenda of keeping the internet as a safe-haven for copyright infringement,” Whitford writes.

The judge has not yet responded to either of the letters, but the Doe who is accused of being part of a pro-piracy lobby did. In yet another submission to the court the Doe refutes the claim, while fanning the flames even more.

“I do not support piracy any more than I support abuse of the legal system to enable extortion and threatening pay-up-or-else schemes,” the Doe writes in another lengthy letter.

A few days later this was followed by another letter which appears to come from the same person, discrediting the copyright holder’s evidence again. In this letter the Doe also attaches rulings where federal judges have dropped similar cases because IP addresses don’t equal a person.

The plaintiffs attorney nor the judge have responded to these last two submissions.

It will be interesting to see how and if the actions of this lone Doe will be received by Judge Sarah Barker. The good thing is that the judge is now at least aware of the true intentions of the copyright holders, and the fact that granting the subpoenas pretty much kills the right to run open wireless networks.

The future will tell if it made a difference.


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