Landmark Ruling Says BitTorrent Downloads Are Protected Anonymous Speech
Some days it seems like there are tidal shifts in technology and how it is used when it comes to the law and today was one of those days when we see a huge shift in the law because of one judge’s rulings.
One of the things that has always been in contention when it comes to dealing with copyright infringement lawsuits is that anything to do with copyright is governed by federal law. The states have no say – legally – when it comes to copyright case, except; and you had to know there was an ‘except’ coming, when it comes to the State of Florida.
By exploiting a loophole in the law copyright troll could bring a case before the state courts based on ‘the pure bill of discovery’ which allowed them to demand subpoenas that they could then send to ISPs without having to provide one iota of evidence.
Well if seems that Judge Marc Schumacher has had enough of this nonsense, or as he put it – fishing expeditions and has issued what is being called a landmark ruling.
He begins by noting that many federal courts have been dismissing Bittorrent cases with the basis of those dismissals being that these ‘copyright trolls’ (the judge’s words) are violating Bittorrent users’ right to anonymous speech, which is a right protected under the First Amendment.
“The Supreme Court often has recognized that the First Amendment protects anonymous speech. Other federal courts have held that Internet users sharing copyrighted works via the BitTorrent application are themselves engaged in anonymous speech that warrants First Amendment protection,” the judge writes in his order.
Judge Schumacher goes on to explain that because he has no jurisdiction over copyright matters, he cannot establish whether the claim of the copyright holder trumps the anonymity of the defendants. Thus, it is impossible for a state court to conclude whether the copyright holder’s request to identify the file-sharers is legitimate or not.
The premise here being that a Bittorrent users’ right to anonymous speech shields them from being exposed by state court lawsuits. In addition the judge ruled that the ‘pure bill of discovery’ cannot be used in the case of mass-Bittorrent lawsuits because they are intended for the defendant to be the target, not third parties like ISPs.
Chalk one up for the consumer – well for today anyway.