Thursday, June 3, 2010

Internet Activity is Not as Anonymous as You May Believe

Using an anonymous profile and/or username to comment about an issue or person (even a public figure), or share copyrighted data, does not guarantee safety from the legal consequences. In fact, as the following cases indicate, it should be avoided.

In the realm of defamation cases, a grand jury subpoenaed Twitter this month on behalf of Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett to reveal "any and all subscriber information" of two anonymous bloggers @bfbarbie and @CasaBlancaPA.

Twitter was ordered to provide the “name, address, contact information, creation date, creation Internet Protocol address and any and all log in Internet Protocol address” of both bloggers, according to the subpoena.

Signor Ferrari, the pen name of one of the two bloggers from the site, claims it's their First Amendment right to criticize Corbett, a public official. However, whether the court agrees with Ferrari and his First Amendment argument, remains to be seen.

In another case, Steve J. Theriot, the interim president of Jefferson Parish, La., filed suit against 11 anonymous bloggers he believed defamed him on the The Times-Picayune of New Orleans Web site. Theriot eventually dropped the case as his being a public figure would've made it difficult to win.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that all Internet defamation cases involving public figures and anonymous bloggers/writers will fare the same way. Over time these cases will set a precedent for similar cases, giving lawyers, judges, and the legal industry insight as to the boundaries of anonymity when voicing one's opinions online. For internet defamation lawyers, the current state of the caselaw is akin to the wild west, therefore, appellate court guidance in the next five to ten years will be welcomed with open arms.

Another Internet activity that anonymity does not protect against, is file sharing.

The U.S. Copyright Group, a group of intellectual property lawyers whose goal is "to stop movie copyright infringement and make illegal downloaders pay damages for the content they have stolen," has filed suit against more than 20,000 individual users (mostly IP addresses) in Washington D.C. federal court for copyright infringement -- downloading films.

About 30,000 more users will be sued, including those who downloaded the Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker.

A new software from U.K.-based company Guardaley IT makes it easier to track infringers using BitTorrent by "capturing IP addresses based on the time stamp that a download has occurred and then checks against a spreadsheet to make sure the downloading content is the copyright protected film and not a misnamed film or trailer."

However, U.S. courts have been hesitant to use the technology in prosecuting offenders, for a number of reasons, especially after the Recording Industry Association of America's 2003-2008 mass suing of more than 35,000 individuals. But, such technology may prove useful for U.S. litigators in the near future, and currently gives lawyers abroad the means to prosecute faster and easier.

Authored by Taren Fujimoto, edited by Erik Syverson


Ayesha Sadiq said...

You have done a marvelous job! I am really inspired with your work. said...

Yes indeed. The IP address is a surefire way to pinpoint someone.

We've had to have our Henderson bail bonds enforcement agents and skip tracers utilize IP addresses to locate people.