Stock picture of an illegal downloading pirate
Should copyright holders be allowed to compel ISPs to give up the names of customers whose IP addresses show they illegally downloaded content? A US judge thinks not iStock

A federal court judge in the US has rejected the claim that an IP address registered to an individual is enough to prove definitively that the individual is guilty of illegally downloading pirated movies.

Judge Ursula Ungaro of the District Court of the Southern District of Florida has ruled that the creators of Manny, a documentary about Filipino boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, have not established good cause as to why a subpoena should be granted to reveal the identity of a user that might have illegally downloaded the film.

When parties seek to make a copyright infringement claims in court that relate to internet piracy, they usually rely on the IP addresses that accessed the content as evidence, and ask the courts to grant a subpoena to compel internet service providers (ISP) to release the personal details of their customers whose accounts match the IP addresses.

Many of these court orders are quickly approved in the US, but not all, and Judge Ungaro has refused to do so.

Manny's creators have filed 200 claims so far

In March, the creators of Manny, a documentary about Filipino boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, filed a lawsuit with the District Court of the Southern District of Florida, accusing a single unnamed defendant of violating the film-makers' copyright by illegally downloading Manny from the internet.

Manny 2014 film
The movie poster for Manny Universal Pictures

The plaintiffs, who according to Torrent Freak have filed over 200 claims in the US so far, including 40 cases in Florida, wanted the courts to approve a subpoena to obtain the name of the defendant from his or her ISP by using their IP address.

However, Judge Ursula Ungaro declined, asking Manny's creators to prove that an IP address can pinpoint a specific individual, as well as to prove that geolocation tools are good enough to prove that the alleged defendant definitely even resides in the district of Florida.

The plaintiffs responded that they had used copyright intelligence software Excipio and hired a third party IT expert to verify Excipio's findings, and that in the 2014 case of Malibu Media v Pelizzo in which a porn company sued an individual for downloading a porn film, it had been stated that geofencing could be used to pinpoint a person's location.

Copyright trolls using evidence from other copyright troll claims

Of course, the lawyers for Manny's creators left out the part where the case was dismissed without prejudice because the ISP was found to have given Malibu Media the wrong person's name.

They even went so far as to state that if the District Court refused to allow the ISP to identify their accused, then the court was "setting a dangerous precedent that is not warranted by any existing law", and to state that "all other courts have disagreed with Your Honor's ruling".

Of course, Judge Ungaro was not swayed by their arguments, and she even used other unsuccessful court claims by Malibu Media to make her point, citing statements from six different cases whereby courts had felt that the subscriber may not be the same person to have performed the infringement.

She also disagrees with the proof regarding the geolocation software: "Specifically, there is nothing linking the IP address location to the identity of the person actually downloading and viewing the copyrighted material and nothing establishing that the person actually lives in this district.

"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."