California Judge Says BitTorrent Users Don't "Act In Concert," Can't Be Sued In Bulk

Brad Chacos

Suing file sharers in bulk has become the hot new thing in antipiracy cases, as it allows content providers to associate names with IP addresses quickly, but that tactic just suffered a major blow in the Golden State. The physical locations of P2P defendants have been a bone of contention in courts. Steele Hansmeier, an antipiracy law firm, used geolocation to confirm that the 188 porn pilferers named in its mass lawsuit actually lived in California, but the judge presiding over the case still axed 187 defendants off the suit, making it a single-party case.

Pirates who download the same file from separate torrents have nothing in common other than that they downloaded the same work, so they can’t be plaintiffs in the same lawsuit, Spero said. More importantly, Ars Technica reports that Spero ruled that even multiple people who downloaded the same torrent can’t be sued en masse . From the judge’s ruling (warning, legalese ahead):

Second, even if the IP addresses at issue in this motion all came from a single swarm (Maximum PC note: a swarm is a group of peers distributing a torrent) , there is no evidence to suggest that each of the addresses "acted in concert" with all of the others. In fact, the nearly six-week span covering the activity associated with each of the addresses calls into question whether there was ever common activity linking the addresses in this case. In this age of instant digital gratification, it is difficult to imagine, let alone believe, that an alleged infringer of the copyrighted work would patiently wait six weeks to collect the bits of the work necessary to watch the work as a whole. At the very least, there is no proof that bits from each of these addresses were ever assembled into a single swarm. As the court previously explained, under this court's precedent regarding other file sharing protocols, merely infringing the same copyrighted work over this period is not enough.

Judge Spero also said that not only would each of the 188 pirates probably have different defenses, they may also live miles away from each other, so it would be unfair to lump them together in a mass lawsuit.The ruling could end up being a major blow against the practice of suing file sharers in bulk.

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