You still shouldn't pirate media, but they might not be able to catch you in the near future.
Today is a landmark moment for the 'war' on Internet piracy. It is possible that the long war agencies like the RIAA and MPAA have waged against torrenters is at an end. Or at least a major point of change. District Court Judge Harold Baker has ruled that a copyright holder may not subpoena an ISP due to "alleged" infringement.
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The crux of this ruling is the idea that an IP address does not equal a person. Since anyone can hop on a WiFi network, the copyright holder can't show conclusively that the person they sue is actually guilty of anything. In the case people accused of pirating pornographic material, there is a high possibility of irreparable damage to someone's public image as a result of the case.
“Orin Kerr, a professor at George Washington University Law School, noted that whether you’re guilty or not, you look like a suspect. “Could expedited discovery be used to wrest quick settlements, even from people who have done nothing wrong?” wrote Judge Baker.
Before you get too excited and hop back on to The Pirate Bay, you should know that this ruling is far from conclusive. The RIAA & Co. will keep filing their suits until the Supreme Court forces them to stop. But this is a new piece of ammunition for every person out there defending themselves from a ruinous lawsuit.
And it is also a rare example of a judge who understands how technology actually works. So many people leave their WiFi networks open or with a childishly simple password. There is no way for the average person to know what is being done on their WiFi connection, especially since few people ever bother to look. You can't allow copyright holders to launch career-ruining accusations at people with spotty, inconclusive evidence. The judge brought up a recent case where a man was falsely accused of owning child pornography. An accusation like that does irrepairable harm to a person's life.
This ruling raises the question: What is the right thing to do about piracy? The industry won't accept that fighting it is completely ineffective. So they'll be hard at work soon- if they aren't now, finding a new way to go after infringers. Software piracy alone is estimated to have cost $34 billion last year. There's too much money at stake for this scrap to end. All Judge Baker's ruling has done is change the battlefield.