John Wiley & Sons, which publishes the “Dummies” guides, has sued 27 anonymous Web users for allegedly using BitTorrent to share titles.
“By using BitTorrent software to download and distribute Wiley's copyrighted works, defendants have knowingly and purposely infringed, and induced others to infringe, Wiley's copyrighted works,” the company alleges in papers filed in federal court in Manhattan.
Wiley's lawsuit targets Web users whose IP addresses indicate they're based in New York, and who allegedly downloaded various “Dummies” books on Oct. 18 and 19. The titles listed in the lawsuit include “Dreamweaver CS5 All-In-One for Dummies,” “Home Networking Do-It-Yourself for Dummies” and “Word Press for Dummies.”
Among the books published by Wiley is “BitTorrent for Dummies.”
At this point, it's not clear whether Wiley has filed this lawsuit as a warning to all online book-sharers, or whether it intends to systematically start suing people it believes has infringed copyright. Either way, Wiley could be in for more than it bargained for.
That's because determining that someone infringed copyright based on an IP address alone isn't easy. Doing so requires companies to figure out who in a household -- if anyone -- actually used BitTorrent to share a particular file. The alleged infringer could be someone who lives in the house, but could also be a guest, or someone who was able to gain access to a WiFi network that wasn't locked down.
The Recording Industry Association of America famously pioneered litigation against noncommercial infringers in 2003, when it initiated proceedings against people who allegedly shared music files online. The RIAA went on to file more than 30,000 cases.
But the effort proved to be a fiasco -- both from a public relations point of view and a financial one. Although the group extracted four-figure settlements from many people it sued, the RIAA never recouped its litigation costs. In December of 2008, the RIAA abandoned the idea of suing noncommercial users for sharing music.
At the time, the RIAA said it was going to work with Internet service providers to develop a plan to impose sanctions on users without taking them to court. Several months ago, the RIAA and leading ISPs said they had indeed developed such a plan. The initiative calls for ISPs to send users up to five warnings, following which ISPs will institute "mitigation measures" ranging from slowing down users' service to disconnecting them.
The most interesting fact in this blog is the partnership between RIAA and local ISP's who plan to police illegal downloading. While I support copyright law, it is disconcerting to see that once again, private companies are taking on the responsibilities of the courts in enforcing the law. Will the local ISP investigate individual cases to determine guilt/innocence? Will individuals have the means to appeal? Considering that internet access is now a vital resource how much power should an ISP have to shut off a suspected copyright violator? You simply can’t survive without broadband access anymore. Today, access has become as vital as air and water. Do we give local ISP’s that much power over our lives? The judicial system has oversight built in. Who would oversee this private adjudication?