15 Porn Piracy Suits Dismissed Over Accuracy of Geolocation Tools

May 16, 2012 4:00 PM PST

LOS ANGELES — A federal judge has dismissed 15 porn BitTorrent suits against scores of John Does alleged to have shared Lethal Hardcore movies, ruling that plaintiffs couldn't prove the accuracy of geolocation tools used to hunt down alleged infringers.

U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson said that Lethal Hardcore's parent company, Celestial Inc., expressly declined to “make any representations as to the reliability or level of accuracy of IP address geo-location tools” and provided no “details regarding the tools used or the results” in 15 separate suits.  

As a result, Celestial couldn't connect the dots of the alleged infringers identified as "swarms" in the suit actually living in the state of California, where the suits were filed.

Pregerson said that the adult content distributor could only prove that personal jurisdiction "to be somewhat more likely than not."

"The investigating company [to track porn BitTorrent users] makes the conclusory claim that it believes it can correctly identify the state where an IP address is located in the majority of cases, " he ruled. "Likewise, [a] referenced website claims that geolocation beyond the national level is 'more difficult and less accurate,' with accuracy rates between 50 and 80 percent at the municipal level, and perhaps somewhat higher at the state level.

"To put it another way, based on plaintiff’s own reliability claims, there may still be a 20 to 50 percent chance that this court lacks jurisdiction."

Pregerson said that because Celestial failed to make an adequate case out of the geolocation tools used for the 15 cases he would dismiss the suits before they went to discovery.

"[I]t is the First Amendment that requires courts to ensure complaints like this one would at least survive a motion to dismiss, before the court authorizes early discovery to identify anonymous internet users," Pregerson said.

Pregerson's decision follows a recent New York ruling that dealt another setback to antipiracy efforts. In that case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary Brown decided that an IP address alone is not sufficient to accuse individuals of illegal downloads because of the potential that multiple people can use the same computer.

Brown said that nearly a half-dozen defendants raised a panoply of individual defenses, including age, religious convictions and technological savvy; misidentification of ISP accounts; the kinds of Wi-Fi equipment and security software utilized; and the location of defendant’s router. 

Brown also cited "abusive litigations tactics to extract settlements from John Doe defendants" in his reasoning to disallow discovery proceedings in four suits waged by adult studios K-Beech, Malibu Media and Elegant Angel.

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