Judge Quashes Recording Industry Subpoena Seeking the Identities of Three Boston University “John Does”
By Jamie Wicks – Edited by Jon Choate
London-Sire Records, Inc. v. Does 1-4
D. Mass., No. 1:04-cv-12434
Court Order (hosted by Ray Beckerman)
On November 24th, Judge Nancy Gertner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts rebuffed an attempt by major recording industry companies to force a university to reveal the identity of individuals who shared music through online peer-to-peer networks. Judge Gertner quashed a subpoena in London-Sire Records v. Does 1-4, a copyright infringement case in which the plaintiffs had served subpoenas on a number of internet service providers, largely colleges and universities, requiring them to divulge individual users’ identities based on their IP addresses.
Boston University wrote a letter to the court on September 23, 2008, stating that it could not positively identify three of the IP address users. Judge Gertner treated the letter as a motion to quash the subpoena, and found that “the University has adequately demonstrated that it is not able to identify the alleged infringers with a reasonable degree of technical certainty.” In quashing the subpoena, she expressed concern that “compliance with the subpoena . . . would expose innocent parties to intrusive discovery.”
The court’s order to quash the subpoena is available here. Jacqui Cheng of Ars Technica provides background on the case. One Slashdot contributor notes that the order will provide a lesson to University IT departments served with similar subpoenas: if they are simply honest about the difficulty of identifying IP address users, the subpoenas may be quashed. A P2PNet commenter suggests the order may “represent a death knell” to the music industry’s attempt to use universities as “copyright cops.” A Chronicle of Higher Education writer wonders if the holding signifies that IP addresses might no longer be legally synonymous with personal identities.