back to article US Judge says IP addresses don't identify pirates

A US judge has labelled an attempt to sue internet subscribers whose accounts were used to download four pornographic films “abusive litigation” and also criticised legal arguments that an IP address is a valid way to identify an individual online. The comments were made by Gary R Brown, United States Magistrate Judge, in a …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    MAC Address

    Please correct me if im wrong its been a while since ive read up on my OSI model but I didn't think MAC addresses transferred between layers outside of a given router.

    Meaning that the only potential MAC address that could be given is that of the router, which in many cases would be the same router connected to the phone/cable line, which wouldn't tell you any more information that you already have, ie, a computer at that IP address (read router) downloaded something.

    last time I checked routers didn't do much downloading on their own, unless they would then use that as evidence to examine the router, if that had kept records that long I suppose it would be possible to trace a IP address

    1. Crazy Operations Guy
      Thumb Up

      Re: MAC Address

      Yes, the Mac address is not seen outside of the subnet, as it passes through a router, the Mac address gets replaced with that of the interface it is leaving. There are some brain dead protocols that leak this info though, but they are ( thankfully) far and few between.

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: "There are some brain dead protocols that leak [the MAC address]"

        IPv6.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: MAC Address

      The mac address points to the router, not the computer. Also, I can change the mac address in my router to anything I really want.

    3. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: MAC Address

      The router probably holds the MAC addresses only temporarily in RAM. mine seems to have no permanent logs, so if it has been switched off at any point then any such MAC records will have been lost.

      However, if there is a fixed port-forwarding rule to a specific MAC address (rather than a dynamic UPnP set-up for forwarding by the BitTorrent client) that would be available on inspection of the router. That is if they are willing to pay for expert evidence gathering and compensation costs for the accused's loss of access, profits, etc, should it turn out to be an error in their evidence.

      Ultimately these companies are not in the game of proving copyright infringement, they are in the game of demanding money with legal menaces (more profitable), which the judge here clearly sees.

    4. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: MAC Address

      I fail to find any reference to MAC addresses in the article. Has it been edited?

      1. Chemist

        Re: MAC Address

        They used the full name - Media Access Control

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          @Chemist

          Ah. Silly me. So they did (and yes, I do know what MAC stood for!)

      2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: MAC Address

        But interestingly, it is possible for the MAC addresses of machines connected to a single router device performing both border routing to the ADSL or cable network, and also DHCP and/or Wireless routing.

        What runs on the router is only as good as the firmware, and as we have seen with BT and their powerline Ethernet devices for BT Vision, it would appear that some ISP's modify the firmware to allow some remote discovery. And I'm not sure I fully trust uPnP not to leak service information externally. So we could see internal MAC addresses (that the router has to know in order to function), internal IP addresses (from DHCP), and possibly system types and function available to whatever runs in the router's firmware.

        Maybe I'm paranoid, but I have a ADSL router which was not supplied by my ISP (and runs NAT), with a Linux based firewall (Smoothwall, which also runs NAT), and then a wireless hub inside the firewall. DHCP is run by the firewall, not by any of the appliances. This way, I believe that it is almost impossible for anything from the broadband side to get information from inside my network. Now that I'm not relying on wireless as much (I'm using a mixture of direct Cat 5 and, I'm afraid, powerline Ethernet for most network access now - and yes, I generate my own keys), I'm toying with the idea of putting the wireless on a separate DMZ just to give most of my network protection from wireless crackers. Just need to get another Ethernet port in the firewall.

        My wife thinks I'm mad, having so much kit 'just to provide the internet', but then I believe (and I check!) that we've been completely clear of intrusion type attacks since I set this up.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          @me - incomplete sentence.

          "But interestingly, it is possible for the MAC addresses of machines connected to a single router device performing both border routing to the ADSL or cable network, and also DHCP and/or Wireless routing"

          is not complete. It should also have "to leak" appended.

        2. NomNomNom

          Re: MAC Address

          "Maybe I'm paranoid, but I have a ADSL router which was not supplied by my ISP (and runs NAT), with a Linux based firewall (Smoothwall, which also runs NAT), and then a wireless hub inside the firewall. DHCP is run by the firewall, not by any of the appliances. This way, I believe that it is almost impossible for anything from the broadband side to get information from inside my network. Now that I'm not relying on wireless as much (I'm using a mixture of direct Cat 5 and, I'm afraid, powerline Ethernet for most network access now - and yes, I generate my own keys), I'm toying with the idea of putting the wireless on a separate DMZ just to give most of my network protection from wireless crackers. Just need to get another Ethernet port in the firewall.

          My wife thinks I'm mad, having so much kit 'just to provide the internet', but then I believe (and I check!) that we've been completely clear of intrusion type attacks since I set this up."

          you remembered the landlines on the lawn?

          1. NomNomNom

            Re: MAC Address

            anti-tank mines I mean, I presume you already have an electrified perimeter to defend against personnel. I am just making sure you've protected yourself from the possibility of tank attack.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Re: MAC Address

            Assuming you're running the express version of Smoothwall, you probably aren't gaining a lot over what a typical "current" ADSL router will provide other than "defence in depth" from using multiple products.

            In fact, if you are going to go to all that expense (equipment and time), why not just buy the movies rather than downloading them via BitTorrent?

            1. Aaron Em
              Coat

              Re: MAC Address

              "In the closet" usually does for me. Ta!

            2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

              Re: MAC Address -AC@11:46 8th May

              "..you probably aren't gaining a lot over what a typical "current" ADSL router will provide.."

              You think not?

              Double NAT, not relying on ISPs router firmware to leak information, capture of packet headers and GBs of log files, multiple DMZs, intrusion detection log, control of inbound connections using SSH to give access to printing and filestorage in my home (you can really do a huge amount through SSH tunnels, including CIFS and lpd), configurable DDNS (I've tried the DDNS support in routers, and given up), not needing a syslog server to capture the logs that are too large to be held in the device, traffic logging from individual systems within the home environment (useful for determining who is the traffic hog), a proper user interface (shell) to diagnose network problems, tcpdump available, serial line attached to my RS/6000 to allow me to remotely power on and off from the Internet. You want me to go on, because I don't think this list is complete.

              I don't use SmoothGuardian, SmoothWarrior or any of the other paid plugins, because I do not run my own SMTP server or multisite VPNs. I find Smoothwall Express quite capable enough for my needs, and have been using Smoothwall to protect my network for over 10 years, log before ADSL routers were as sophisticated that they are now.

              Expense. A 10 year old 700Mhz Pentium 3 laptop, extra USB Ethernet adapter left lying around from god knows when, and a couple of Ethernet cables. Total outlay, nothing, zero, zilch. Burns about 20 watts of power with the screen off, so is not very expensive in energy either.

              And, of course, my time.

              Why do you assume I download Torrents? There is enough content in iPlayer, Sky Anytime, 4OD, Demand 5, YouTube, as well as the rest of the Internet, and my kids use Steam, Wii and Xbox games a lot. There's plenty of legal content lying around on the Internet. I'm not blocking the RIAA or MPIAA scanning my systems specifically, I'm trying to keep my home network safe from anybody who might want to do damage to it. I do not want ANYBODY snooping my network out of principle.

              If I download torrents, it's only fan-subbed anime for series that are not available in the UK. There's a lot of non-H series that have never been available in the US or the UK, so is very difficult to get to see without some form of copyright infringement. If it were available, I would probably buy it rather than download it.

              My library of purchased downloads, DVDs, CDs and videos is quite extensive, and I do buy almost all of the content that I have, although some of it is second hand. I take exception to the implication that I am any more a copyright infringer (even with my admission about anime) than anybody else, and ask whether you live in a greenhouse? At least I post under my own name!

    5. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: MAC Address

      Bear in mind that on some systems - particularly cable which is more common in the US than here in the UK - the MAC address of the cable modem is the primary access key. The cable modem is ISP supplied, provides an ethernet port, and the user connects their own equipment downstream from that.

      So for that type of system, it is not silly to ask for MAC addresses which will be fixed and uniquely identify the subscribers connection - while an IP address may be more open to challenge where they are dynamically assigned.

  2. Tasogare

    Sounds to me like his decision was legal-speak for "the law requires me to give you what you want here, but personally I think you're giant flaming jackasses and I would like nothing better than to dismiss your complaint with the prejudice it deserves."

    Presumably it will actually get dismissed at some later step. It's hard to say; there's a detailed description of the legal nastygram but nothing really about why he's allowing them to proceed.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      @Tasogare

      Very much so.

      It sounds like it may end for them as for ACL:Law in the UK, where the lack of willingness to prove actual infringement by the accused in a court of law, and the general incompetence of their evidence processes, blew their chances and led to bankruptcy for the ambulance-chaser of the lawyer behind it.

      1. Fatman

        Re: ... the ambulance-chaser of the lawyer behind it.

        I wonder just how many people would stand in line for the opportunity to give that `sheister` a thorough whipping with a stripped patch cable?

        Takers, anyone?

        Now, where is the `shylock` icon?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    See how well that holds up...

    ...for pirates and hackers when they confiscate your PCs.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: See how well that holds up...

      <= you missed the icon?

      You also forgot to mention the large resulting compensation for legal costs, time & inconvenience when a large number of such accusations turn out to be false...

      1. Fatman

        Re: ... large resulting compensation for legal costs, ...

        If those were to be awarded, then I believe that, not in only an award for the actual damages incurred (which should include a successful defendant's legal costs); the court should award 1000x that amount as punitive damages.

        That will get the attention of those m-----f---ing slime balls. Bankrupt them, strip those sheisters of their law licenses.

        Payback is a B!TCH, ain't it.

  4. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Up

    Bravo Judge Brown!

    At least it seems that *someone* in the US Legal System has a clue!

    1. Arctic fox
      Thumb Up

      @Graham Marsden Indeed, the wisdom of Solomon in comparison to much else....

      .........we have heard from the bench in this area.

      "Thus, it is no more likely that the subscriber to an IP address carried out a particular computer function – here the purported illegal downloading of a single pornographic film – than to say an individual who pays the telephone bill made a specific telephone call.”

      Everyone of these copy-write trolls should be sentenced to having that quotation tattooed on whatever part of their anatomy it is felt will do most good.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smacks of the old scam

    where iffy companies used to advertise something by mail order in the back of magazines, didn't deliver, and then when pressed for a refund the cheque was made out by 'Arse-Intruding Dildos Limited' or similar. People lost their money because they were embarrassed to be associated with 'Arse-Intruding Dildos Limited' and didn't cash the cheque.

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: Smacks of the old scam

      Isn't that a quote from Lock Stock?

      1. Vic

        Re: Smacks of the old scam

        > Isn't that a quote from Lock Stock?

        The joke predates Lock Stock by at least several decades...

        Vic.

    2. That Steve Guy

      Re: Smacks of the old scam

      Sounds like you have been watching Lock Stock on DVD.

      1. NomNomNom

        Re: Smacks of the old scam

        Either that or he's been watching "Arse Intruding Dildos II: Re-entry"

  6. Baudwalk
    Coat

    “abusive litigation”?

    Was that possibly also the title of one of the pirated cultural epics?

    The rain coat, please.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    These are another version of the collection agencies who don't know or care if there's a valid debt or not. That is a successful business model that has served a number of such scoundrels well, and it is past time they were served as they deserve.

  8. Great Bu

    Kids these days

    This is why I have toild my kids that they will be in serious trouble if they illegally download 'educational' films from the internet*.

    *without sharing them with me.

  9. chriswakey

    “Upon receipt of the Complaint, I reached out to Plaintiff and spoke to a self-described “Negotiator” in an effort to see if I could prove to them … that I had nothing to do with the alleged copyright infringements,” one defendant said. “The Negotiator was offered unfettered access to my computer, my employment records, and any other discovery they may need to show that I was not the culpable party. Instead, the Negotiator refused and was only willing to settle the Complaint for thousands of dollars.” The Negotiator later failed to return voice mails.

    Doesn't that just say exactly what they're after?

    Not justice, just money.

  10. NomNomNom

    I used to be an interloper until I took an arrow to the face

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I used to be a masturbator until I took an arrow in the groin!

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Trollface

    "An IP address provides only the location [..] any number of computer devices may be deployed"

    Dear Lord, it is true - 2012 is indeed the End Of The World !

    Justice has finally woken up to a basic fact concerning the Internet. Next, we'll have newspapers and reporters actually telling the truth, and in November we'll have politicians denouncing their own lies.

    Then December rolls in, and when political parties admit that they're only in it for the money, we'll be doomed.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The judge will eventually be overruled.

    While it is true that the IP address does not specifically identify you, the IP address is definitively linked to the alleged illegal act. Therefore the next chain in legal discovery is that the ISP has to reveal the owner of the IP address at the time of the alleged infringement. Once that is established it is still incumbent on the complaintant to prove the defendant engaged in the infringement.

    Now as to the abusive nature of the tugs trying to do the collecting, that might be sufficient grounds for dismissal with prejudice.

    On the other hand, the lady with the unsecured router might just consider herself lucky they didn't up the charges to acting as a distributor for pirated materials.

    The only chance defendants have on this one is that the thugs don't have clever lawyers. Not a bet I'd take.

    1. Andy Christ

      You missed the punch line

      The article concluded:

      The judgement nonetheless permits the plaintiffs Malibu Media and Patrick Collins to “... obtain the name, address, and Media Access Control address for each Defendant designated as John Doe 1” and says the defendants' internet service providers must hand over relevant information.

      So if the judge is overruled, it will be for the opposite reason you suggest.

  13. SoaG
    WTF?

    ``these tactics distinguish these plaintiffs from other copyright holders with whom they repeatedly compare themselves```

    Odd, I`ve never heard of any copyright holders pursuining individuals that arent using these tactics.

  14. JDX Gold badge

    "her wireless router was not secured"

    I agree with the Judge but on this one specific defence, I'm not so sure. Isn't it sensible to stipulate that people are responsible for taking reasonable care to secure their internet access points? Otherwise we set legal precedent for a real criminal to deliberately use an unsecured router and get away with anything they want.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Off to prison

    IP addresses are only one source of I.D. used to send pirates and hackers to prison.

    1. Jeffrey Jefferson
      Trollface

      Re: Off to prison

      Shut up

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Off to prison

        Denial is not a good legal defense. Ask Anonymous members who are no longer anonymous.

  16. philbo
    Facepalm

    But with an IP address..

    ..you can bring up a photograph of the user. I saw that in Jumpin' Jack Flash years ago, so it must be true.

    ..or take over the PC webcam and look at who the offender is in real-time. I've seen that in *loads* of films now - any amateur hacker, geek or FBI agent can do it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But with an IP address..

      Yep. And I saw an edition of the current affairs programme Brass Eye, in you can be felt up through your own computer monitor. Or was that Nonce Sense?

      But seriously, rumour in my home town was that Ben Dover was using the same threatening tactics against users of a few ISPs... I guess he could out you, and people on the street would mock you: "You had the whole internet of smut, and you choose to download a Ben Dover film?!"

      1. philbo

        Re: But with an IP address..

        That was a brilliant Brass Eye - "internet paedophiles can make computer keyboards emit noxious fumes to subdue children".. unfortunately took the piss out of so many different people's paedophilia scaremongering that there wasn't anyone in the media left to say nice things about it.

        I'd not be surprised if Ben Dover was using the same sorts of tactics: he's known as a bit of a big knob in the industry

  17. Duffaboy
    Joke

    So does this mean you can download.the following Movie...Wait for it...

    "Carry On Downloading"

  18. Sam Therapy

    Here's hoping

    Someone points our set of fucking idiots in the direction of this judge.

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