April 8, 2013

First request for Six-Strike data in Verizon lawsuit

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Although the six-strike copyright alert system only began in February this year, it’s already being used in a civil legal action—one thing the Center for Copyright Information (CCI) tried to assure us wouldn’t happen.

When the new Copyright Alert System began, many expressed concern that the data gathered about internet users would be mined as a evidence gathering service for the entertainment lobby.

The CCI countered that the system would merely be educational, sending slap-on-the-wrist messages to internet users detected downloading copyrighted material. Besides the ability to temporarily slow down the user’s internet connection, they claimed the strike system was mostly toothless.

From the start however, internet watchers warned that this trove of data about online copyright infringers simply could not be left alone by content providers. As TorrentFreak wrote at the time, after examining that facts offered by Verizon and the CCI:

“[T]his is not mentioned by Verizon—the MPAA and RIAA may obtain the IP-addresses of such repeat infringers in order to take legal action against them. While the ISPs will not voluntarily share the name and address linked to the IP-address, they can obtain a subpoena to demand this information from the provider.

The potential for copyright holders to use the alert system as solid evidence gathering for lawsuits remains one of the most problematic aspects of the six-strikes scheme.”

They were proven right this week when the adult movie studio Malibu Media subpoenaed Verizon for copies of DMCA and six-strikes notices issued so far to a possible BitTorrent pirate.

According to TorrentFreak, Malibu Media has requested

“- DMCA notices and if applicable six strike notices sent to the applicable subscribers.

– Defendants’ bandwidth usage.

– Information about the (reliability of the) correlation of the IP-Address to the subscriber for purposes of use at trial.

– Content viewed by Defendants to the extent the content is the same show or movie that Plaintiff learned from third-party BitTorrent scanning companies that Defendants also used BitTorrent to download and distribute.”

Verizon is resisting for the moment, alleging that Malibu is trying to harass them through suit, but Malibu filed a “motion to enforce” in a Texas District Court this week, to pressure Verizon to release details about the internet user in question.

If Malibu should succeed, it would set a worrying precedent for future cases. The movie studios and record labels would have potential access to a virtually limitless set of data about internet users, given that every major internet service provider in the United States is signed up to this system.

This possibility is not mentioned on the CCI’s super-unhelpful FAQ page. The CCI promises users that there’s no six strike” black list”, although a lawsuit against you might be more than enough.

Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.

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