Courts have to at least know that a defendant lives within their physical jurisdiction before allowing a case to go forward whose first requirement is that the court make an exception to the First Amendment rights of ISPs or others by requiring them to surrender information about defendants whose names could not be known without that order, Pregerson ruled.
As a result of his finding, Pregerson threw out 15 suits against defendants identified only by the placeholder title "John Doe," plus an IP address and time stamp.
A Florida state judge issued a similar ruling two weeks ago, confirming that an IP address is not a person. Together the two rulings potentially invalidate hundreds of thousands of convictions and undermine settlements many complain were the result of bullying, not solid evidence and effective litigation.
As a result the tentative connection between an IP address and an individual that had been allowed, reluctantly, by judges in the past had become obsolete, Judge Brown ruled.
Since mid-2010, 220,000 people have been accused of illegally downloading movies – usually porn – using the BitTorrent network, according to U.S. News. Even the RIAA has been accused, accurately, though no one has sued it so far.
Accusers ask the court to order ISPs to identify owners of particular IP addresses, add those names to the complaints, then demand settlements or fines of $3,000 or more; if they refuse, copyright owners take them to court where fines could reach $150,000, according to U.S. News.
Many accused, uncomfortable having their names made public in accusations they are porn thieves hesitate to hire lawyers or ask courts to quash even the most outrageous, least-credible accusations, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Rulings could abolish copyright-troll extortion, but other courts must follow suit
The abusive, random nature of the accusations and financial incentive of settlements at $3,000 a head led the EFF to call the practice a scam and name those driving it as "copyright trolls."