Are people held accountable for everything that happens at their IP address including copyright infringement?
For the several years the internet has served an active role in people’s lives, controversy has existed about whether or not individuals maintain responsibility for everything that happens at their IP address, such as copyright infringement.
As prosecutors, mainstream media companies, and the adult film industry all have an interest in preventing copyright infringement or illegal actions taken over the internet, controversy exists about whether their analysis of a person’s IP address is sufficient to establish liability. For example, when elderly grandmothers face liability for child pornography reported as accessed by the grandmother’s IP address, many question whether the IP address alone tells the full story about the content and its viewers. Concerns particularly have arisen regarding the ability companies and prosecutors have to obtain IP address information, and then file suits against owners of the addresses.
How do companies and prosecutors gain information about individuals’ IP addresses for copyright infringement cases?
Typically, companies hire law firms or others to monitor sites where illegal activities prevail. Sites such as BitTorrent, where copyright violations thrive, receive particular scrutiny and provide companies with an opportunity to examine illegal content and determine which IP address accesses that illegal information. Once a particular IP address displays illegal activity, the observing law firms can then subpoena internet service providers like AT&T to provide the identity and physical address the owners of each IP address.
Once a law firm knows the identity of an individual whose IP address has registered copyright infringement or other illegal activities, a suit or prosecutor can take place. Typically criminal matters such as the downloading of child pornography require additional evidence of criminality for a conviction to take place. In civil matters, however, alleged internet pirates essentially have to prove themselves innocent by suggesting alternate ways in which the illegal activity could have occurred.
What problems exist when holding people accountable for copyright infringement and other illegal actions that happens at their IP address?
Oftentimes, IP addresses do not adequately indicate which specific individual has committed illegal actions. Though IP address give plaintiffs and prosecutors a big clue as to which computer or network has committed the violation, pinning that liability on a particular individual comes under some controversy. Situations could, and almost certainly do exist, where an individual who owns an IP address was not the specific individual who committed any illegal internet activities.
For example, many people share computers in networks with other individuals. In such a situation, it would be unfair to pin liability on a specific IP address owner regardless of any other information indicating his or her guilt. Other situations such as computers without password protection, and computer networks that can be hacked into or otherwise used by outside individuals make pinning copyright infringement liability on a specific IP address holder questionable to many.