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Film Studios Battle Reddit for User IP Addresses

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That an IP address is not a person and cannot be conclusively tied to an individual is self-evident, but does a person have the right to anonymous speech?

In a cynical attempt to circumvent First Amendment concerns, film companies are making the case that an IP address is not a person – which is often reiterated by defenders of those accused of content “piracy” – and even by courts.

But film companies are now using the argument just so they could get Reddit to share IP addresses, and then, they could get to the person.

This case, as reported by Torrent Freak, concerns Reddit users who post comments related to piracy, and therefore unmasking them would be a First Amendment violation in terms of anonymous speech.

Voltage Holdings crops up again in this “war on piracy” as one of the companies in question. In the past, the targets of their legal action have been BitTorrent users, when the IP was used as proof that a certain individual is a “pirate.”

That didn’t go so well, but now that Reddit has told a court IP addresses are identifying information, Voltage Holdings made the “not a person” argument, and said that anonymity would not be jeopardized by Reddit handing over IP address logs and unmasking them.

Read the argument here.

Reddit’s case is not as simple as that though, since the company claims that once they have the IP address, the film companies could go to ISPs to obtain (Reddit) account information.

Days later, reports said that another unmasking attempt via a DMCA subpoena – this time of BitTorrent users accused of piracy – got blocked by a court in Hawaii.

Voltage Holdings featured here as well, along with Millennium Funding, and Capstone Studios, while in the opposite corner sat Cox Communications, and, of course, its users whose identities the companies want.

Cox informed the targeted individuals and gave them an opportunity to formally object, which one of them did, leading the court to find the subpoena was not valid under DMCA’s section 512(h).

The key reason is that this section provides ISPs with certain safe harbor protections, which in turn makes the attempt to learn about their users’ identities in this scenario invalid.

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