May 16, 2012, 2:35 PM — The U.S. Supreme Court may consider corporations to be people, but three federal judges in three states have ruled that an IP address is not a person, throwing into question charges against hundreds of thousands in the U.S. accused of copyright violations, child porn, hacking and other online crimes.
Two weeks ago a federal judge in New York state denied the request of three porn studios to subpoena the names of users of 79 IP addresses from through which the studios claimed illegal BitTorrent downloads of their content had been made, according to a May 5 story from the IDG News Service.
Assuming the person paying the bills for an IP address is also the one responsible for all the activity that flows through it is "tenuous," according to the ruling by Judge Gary Brown of the U.S. District Court in Eastern New York.
"An IP address provides only the location at which one of any number of computer devices may be deployed, much like a telephone number can be used for any number of telephones," Brown wrote (full text of ruling).
Ten years ago, when associations of copyright owners such as the RIAA and MPAA extracted penalties from tens of thousands of consumers by accusing them of illegal downloads based on IP address, there were few wireless networks in private homes, most of which had only one or two computers connected to the Internet.
In 2012, 61 percent of private homes have wireless networks that allow many computers to connect using a single IP address, even computers used by neighbors cadging free wireless bandwidth or wardrivers covering their own activities by surreptitiously logging in to a stranger's network.
An IP address is not a specific person and may not even be a particular state
A federal judge in California went further: Geolocation systems used to identify the specific building assigned an IP address are so imprecise there's a 20 percent to 50 percent chance the accused doesn't even live in the same federal District Court jurisdiction their accusers claim they occupy, according to California District Court Judge Dean Pregerson in a decision issued May 1, but was reported only yesterday at TorrentFreak.