The copyright enforcement industry, and in its wake parasitic and opportunistic copyright trolls, has been waging an increasingly ferocious war against large sections of the general public. The practice of suing ordinary internet users for sharing copyrighted files is particularly popular in the United States, where around half a million people have been taken to court over allegations of piracy.
Part of the reason that so many have been sued is the practice of mass lawsuits, where the copyright holder groups defendants who have been identified as P2P downloading the same file, often hundreds or thousands at once, under a single lawsuit.
Copyright holders have in the past got away with doing this because they have been able to successfully argue that as the infringers shared a torrent file with an identical SHA-1 hash (i.e. they were downloading exactly the same file), they effectively constituted a group who traded the file with each other, and could therefore all be included in a single court action.
Federal Judge Stephanie Rose however, has taken the time to understand how BitTorrent actually works, and in a case over the alleged piracy of the movies Killer Joe, Sibling and The Company You Keep, found that,
‘Defendants who have allegedly participated in the same swarm to download a copyrighted work should not, without more information, be considered part of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences.’
Rose highlighted the point that it was impossible to prove that all or even any of the defendants were connected to the same torrent file at once, especially as the alleged offences took place over a period of three months, and that the files were clearly also shared among many thousands of other people who were not included in the lawsuit.
Furthermore, Rose took issue with ISPs releasing infringer details directly to the copyright holder, rather than the copyright holder going through the courts to request details be released first.
Whether other judges follow Rose’s lead remains to be seen (and the copyright enforcement lobby is very powerful and well-funded), but the case sets a solid legal precedent that may help stem the tide of mass lawsuits. If lawsuits need to be filed against every individual accused of infringement, then the costs in time and money will likely be prohibitive for copyright holders.
In the meantime, do remember that using a good VPN provider allows to download torrents to your heart’s content, without the need to worry about nasty lawsuits.