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Judge rules IP addresses not enough info for movie piracy offenders

One Florida judge is shaking up how to make pirates walk the plank, by ruling IP addresses alone are not enough information to prove identity.

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Movie piracy isn’t new, but this is

Movie piracy has been an unfortunate buzz word for a while. The latest instance of piracy surrounds the action movie Manny. Filmmakers of Manny have filed hundreds of lawsuits against BitTorrent pirates this year, unfortunately, not all of them have been successful.

BitTorrent is a file sharing site where you can share files from device to device, without syncing through the cloud, making it a virtual paradise for pirating, especially for the sharing of films and music.

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One Florida judge is shaking up how to makes these pirate walk the plank, however. In a prominent ruling Florida District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro refused to issue a subpoena, arguing that IP address evidence alone is not enough to show who has downloaded a pirated movie. Most reports and lawsuits surrounding piracy fly low on the radar, but U.S. district courts are swamped with piracy lawsuits, particularly those involving film piracy.

Hundreds of lawsuits spanning numerous districts

Before Manny, you may remember the third installation of The Expendables made news, due to it’s highly pirated popularity which effected the gross income of the official release. Now, Manny is put in a similar situation, however, over the past few months they have filed 215 lawsuits, spanning several districts, targeting pirates.

Previously, IP addresses were relied upon as solid evidence as to whom was downloading what, from which device, but Judge Ungaro’s ruling chages up the copyright game quite a bit. No longer will courts be able to grant a subpoena to force an Internet provider to disclose the details of an account holder, based solely on IP address evidence, at least not in Florida. This ruling could be used nationwide to change how information is gathered.

The logic behind the ruling

Universities, libraries, cafes, and other publicly frequented placed, give users access to their Internet services, without recording which individual is using the device. Maybe you loaned a computer to a friend, maybe you’re part of a shared hosting server; multiple client devices can appear to share IP addresses: either because they are part of a shared hosting web server environment, or because a proxy server is acting as an intermediary agent on behalf of its customers, in which case the real originating IP addresses might be hidden from the server receiving a request. Basically, more than one human can be behind an IP address and it’s about time the court recognized it.

Judge Ungaro actually asked the Manny film team to explain how an IP address can pinpoint the actual person who downloaded a pirated film. As well as, how geolocation tools are good enough to prove that the alleged pirate resides in the Court’s district. Their answer? Not a good one, stating, “’all other courts’ [believed an IP address had nothing to with a person and disregarding this notion could set] a ‘dangerous precedent.’”

Not what Judge Ungaro wanted to hear. She stated, “Due to the risk of ‘false positives,’ an allegation that an IP address is registered to an individual is not sufficient in and of itself to support a claim that the individual is guilty of infringement.”

IP not enough to establish a user’s identity

“As in those cases, Plaintiff here fails to show how geolocation software can establish the identity of the Defendant. Specifically, there is nothing linking the IP address location to the identity of the person actually downloading and viewing the copy righted material and nothing establishing that the person actually lives in this district.” Judge Ungaro goes on the state, “even if this IP address is located within a residence, geolocation software cannot identify who have access to that residence’s computer and who would actually be using it to infringe Plaintiff’s copyright.”

This ruling in particular, focuses on the piracy of film, this ruling could be applied to numerous other areas where IP addresses are typically requested, or used as “evidence.” Other states may soon follow suit with Florida and find that IP addresses alone are not enough to confirm the identity of the offender.

Not all judges as enlightened as Ungaro

While not all judges may be as enlightened as Judge Ungaro, this order certainly makes it harder for copyright holders to blindly subpoena an entire list of IP addressses without additional proof. It also gives other defendants, in similar situations, a place to start.

Even in light of this ruling, movie piracy is still against the law and subject to some pretty hefty fines; so don’t hide behind your IP address, waving your free movie flag, because technology is constantly evolving and one day, the movie piracy police will have enough proof to show up at your door. Aargh.

#MoviePiracy

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

Business News

Big retailers are opting for refunds instead of returns

(BUSINESS NEWS) Due to increased shipping costs, big companies like Amazon and Walmart are opting to give out a refund rather than accepting small items returned.

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Package delivery people holding deliveries. Refund instead of returns are common now.

The holidays are over, and now some people are ready to return an item that didn’t quite work out or wasn’t on their Christmas list. Whatever the reason, some retailers are giving customers a refund and letting them keep the product, too.

When Vancouver, Washington resident, Lorie Anderson, tried returning makeup from Target and batteries from Walmart she had purchased online, the retailers told her she could keep or donate the products. “They were inexpensive, and it wouldn’t make much financial sense to return them by mail,” said Ms. Anderson, 38. “It’s a hassle to pack up the box and drop it at the post office or UPS. This was one less thing I had to worry about.”

Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., and other companies are changing the way they handle returns this year, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to weigh the costs of processing physical returns versus just issuing a refund and having customers keep the item.

For instance, if it costs more to ship an inexpensive or larger item than it is to refund the purchase price, companies are giving customers a refund and telling them to keep the products also. Due to an increase in online shopping, it makes sense for companies to change how they manage returns.

Locus Robotics chief executive Rick Faulk told the Journal that the biggest expense when it comes to processing returns is shipping costs. “Returning to a store is significantly cheaper because the retailer can save the freight, which can run 15% to 20% of the cost,” Faulk said.

But, returning products to physical stores isn’t something a lot of people are wanting to do. According to the return processing firm Narvar, online returns increased by 70% in 2020. With people still hunkered down because of the pandemic, changing how to handle returns is a good thing for companies to consider to reduce shipping expenses.

While it might be nice to keep the makeup or batteries for free, don’t expect to return that new PS5 and get to keep it for free, too. According to WSJ, a Walmart spokesperson said the company lets someone keep a refunded item only if the company doesn’t plan on reselling it. And, besides taking the economic costs into consideration, the companies look at the customer’s purchase history as well.

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Business News

Google workers have formed company’s first labor union

(BUSINESS NEWS) A number of Google employees have agreed to commit 1% of their salary to labor union dues to support employee activism and fight workplace discrimination.

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Google complex with human sized chessboard, where a labor union has been formed.

On Monday morning, Google workers announced that they have formed a union with the support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications and media labor union in the U.S.

The new union, Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) was organized in secret for about a year and formed to support employee activism, and fight discrimination and unfairness in the workplace.

“From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade,” stated Program Manager Nicki Anselmo in a press release.

AWU is the first union in the company’s history, and it is open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company in the United States and Canada. The cost of membership is 1% of an employee’s total compensation, and the money collected will be used to fund the union organization.

In a response to the announcement, Google’s Director of People Operations, Kara Silverstein, said, “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”

Unlike other labor unions, the AWU is considered a “Minority Union”. This means it doesn’t need formal recognition from the National Labor Relations Board. However, it also means Alphabet can’t be forced to meet the union’s demands until a majority of employees support it.

So far, the number of members in the union represents a very small portion of Google’s workforce, but it’s growing every day. When the news of the union was first announced on Monday, roughly 230 employees made up the union. Less than 24 hours later, there were 400 employees in the union, and now that number jumped to over 500 employees.

Unions among Silicon Valley’s tech giants are rare, but labor activism is slowly picking up speed, especially with more workers speaking out and organizing.

“The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues. All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members,” stated the AWU in a press release.

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Business News

Ticketmaster caught red-handed hacking, hit with major fines

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ticketmaster has agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after hacking into a competitor’s network specifically to sabotage.

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Person open on hacking computer screen, typing on keyboard.

Live Nation’s Ticketmaster agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after admitting to hacking into a competitor’s network and scheming to “choke off” the ticket seller company and “cut [victim company] off at the knees”.

Ticketmaster admitted hiring former employee, Stephen Mead, from startup rival CrowdSurge (which merged with Songkick) in 2013. In 2012, Mead signed a separation agreement to keep his previous company’s information confidential. When he joined Live Nation, Mead provided that confidential information to the former head of the Artist Services division, Zeeshan Zaidi, and other Ticketmaster employees. The hacking information shared with the company included usernames, passwords, data analytics, and other insider secrets.

“When employees walk out of one company and into another, it’s illegal for them to take proprietary information with them. Ticketmaster used stolen information to gain an advantage over its competition, and then promoted the employees who broke the law. This investigation is a perfect example of why these laws exist – to protect consumers from being cheated in what should be a fair market place,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.

In January 2014, Mead gave a Ticketmaster executive multiple sets of login information to Toolboxes, the competitor’s password-protected app that provides real-time data about tickets sold through the company. Later, at an Artists Services Summit, Mead logged into a Toolbox and demonstrated the product to Live Nation and Ticketmaster employees. Information collected from the Toolboxes were used to “benchmark” Ticketmaster’s offerings against the competitor.

“Ticketmaster employees repeatedly – and illegally – accessed a competitor’s computers without authorization using stolen passwords to unlawfully collect business intelligence,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme in a statement. “Further, Ticketmaster’s employees brazenly held a division-wide ‘summit’ at which the stolen passwords were used to access the victim company’s computers, as if that were an appropriate business tactic.”

The hacking violations were first reported in 2017 when CrowdSurge sued Live Nation for antitrust violations. A spokesperson told The Verge, “Ticketmaster terminated both Zaidi and Mead in 2017, after their conduct came to light. Their actions violated our corporate policies and were inconsistent with our values. We are pleased that this matter is now resolved.”

To resolve the case, Ticketmaster will pay a $10 million criminal penalty, create a compliance and ethics program, and report to the United States Attorney’s Office annually during a three-year term. If the agreement is breached, Ticketmaster will be charged with: “One count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, one count of computer intrusion for commercial advantage, one count of computer intrusion in furtherance of fraud, one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of wire fraud.”

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