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'Dallas Buyers Club' Torrent Lawsuits Filed, Impossible to Prove

By William Peacock, Esq. on February 10, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Our first reaction: are people still filing these?

Dallas Buyers Club is an award-winning movie. Like every other movie out there, good or bad, award-winning or flopping, it gets pirated on the Internet, most commonly via Bittorrent file-sharing networks.

Bittorrent is far from anonymous. Anyone on Bittorrent can see the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of every other person connected to the file. With the IP addresses and a court order, copyright "trolls" can go to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and ask for real names.

Easy as downloading pirated movies pie, right? So why is suing the bootleggers so darn difficult?

IP Addresses Explained

Every device that hooks up to the Internet gets a corresponding IP address, which is the cyber-equivalent of your home address. That should make identifying a specific user easy, right?

That's where your wireless network and/or router come into play. Most ISPs have wireless networking built in to their modems, and if not, many consumers add wireless routers to allow their smartphones, tablets, and laptops to connect to the Internet without wires.

The modem gets a public IP address. All of the other devices connect through that single IP address.

Who is Behind the IP?

Sometimes, people leave these wireless networks unsecured. Other times, they invite friends over.

This is what causes the proof problem.

Who downloaded Dallas Buyers Club? Was it the ISP account holder? The neighbor? The daughter's boyfriend?

Even Worse: VPNs

Another increasingly common reason why these lawsuits are impossible to prove are Virtual Private Networks -- which route Internet traffic through a server somewhere else in the world. Many of us use VPNs to connect to work, but they are becoming increasingly popular for protecting privacy (or avoiding getting caught downloading torrents).

To the rest of the Internet, they see the IP address of the VPN, which may be somewhere in say, Berlin, while the actual culprit is sitting in his mother's basement in Sandusky, Ohio.

Courts Have Already Figured This Out

This is where we return to our initial reaction.

Back in 2011, a judge rejected a request, brought by a notorious porn copyright attorney, to unmask over 1,000 individuals' IP addresses, citing the proof issues discussed above. Judge Harold Baker also cited, as an example, an incident where a family's home was raided for illegally downloading child pornography thanks to a neighbor who tapped into their network.

A second New York judge, Gary Brown, elaborated on the proof problems a year later, stating, "[I]t is no more likely that the subscriber to an IP address carried out a particular computer function -- here the purported illegal downloading of a single pornographic film -- than to say an individual who pays the telephone bill made a specific telephone call," reports TorrentFreak.

California courts have made similar findings as well.

There may be a way to prove these cases, but going after bare IP address and John Does almost certainly isn't it.

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