Judge lambasts porn company for spewing copyright lawsuits – Naked Security


For years, people have handed thousands of dollars to copyright trolls in order to avoid the embarrassment of getting dragged through court over charges of downloading pirated videos from BitTorrent sites.

The trolls have pounced on downloaders, filing copyright lawsuits over illegal downloads against “John Doe” defendants, whom they only know by IP address.

But last week, a court in the US state of New Jersey refused to play ball, instead coming down on the side of the privacy rights of the ISP account holders who are targetted.

A federal judge in New Jersey denied a prolific copyright-filing porn video company from getting the expedited subpoena it wanted in order to reveal the identities of internet users whom it claims illegally downloaded pirated content over BitTorrent.

The company is Strike 3 Holdings – the company behind the adult entertainment videos produced by the Vixen, Tushy and Blacked studios. According to TorrentFreak, Strike 3 is the most active filer of piracy lawsuits in the US.

Judge Joel Schneider didn’t just deny Strike 3 its request to see the identities of people whose IP addresses it had connected to illegal downloads, he also became the latest in a string of judges to criticize the company’s strategy of filing a massive number of copyright lawsuits against anonymous downloaders.

In January 2019, TorrentFreak reported that Strike 3 had filed 2,092 cases over the previous 12 months.

This is how these copyright cases work:

  1. The company claiming to be a victim of piracy gets a list of allegedly infringing IP addresses from BitTorrent swarms – i.e., a group of computers downloading and uploading the same torrent.
  2. The copyright holder requests a subpoena from the court that will compel ISPs to hand over the customer data associated with the IP addresses.
  3. Once the copyright holder gets hold of the identities of people behind the ISP accounts, it starts chasing them down for cash settlements.

It works. They’ve been pulling in big bucks. Last year, in one of the first cases to signal how sick and tired judges are of seeing their courts flooded by these cases, Judge Royce C. Lamberth called Strike 3 a “cut-and-paste” serial litigant whose lawsuits “smack of extortion” – a company that turns tail at the first sign of a defense and which, he said, had been using his court “as an ATM”.

Both that decision, from November 2018, as well as last week’s decision from District Court Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider, outline a slew of problems with the way that copyright trolls have been unleashing swarms of lawyers to hound people who allegedly watch their content through BitTorrent.

First, because BitTorrent masks users’ identities, Strike 3 can only identify infringing IP addresses. From an IP address it can identify the ISP that allocated it and, using geolocation, the likely jurisdiction the IP address resides in.

That method is “famously flawed,” Lamberth wrote, given the flimsy links between an IP address, a person and a location. Multiple people might share the same IP address: family, neighbors, guests, roommates, for example, and an IP address can be reallocated at the whim of the ISP.

An IP addresses might also point to virtual private network (VPNs) or Tor node, or a home computer compromised by malware and being used without its owner’s knowledge.

Geolocation has its issues too – it’s far from pin-point accurate and, in extremis, it might randomly assign an address to a default location.