For heads of households and business owners that offer free wifi or internet access, a recent decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals makes it clear that the sharing an IP address doesn't automatically lead to liability when someone else on the shared IP address illegally downloads copyrighted content.
The Cobbler Nevada v. Gonzales case involves the makers of the Adam Sandler movie The Cobbler, suing due to illegal downloads via BitTorrent. Cobbler Nevada initially filed the matter as a John Doe case against the IP address basically. However, tracking down the individual(s) who actually did the downloading proved impossible, and as such, Cobbler chose to just go after the registered owner of the address.
No Intent for Others' Violations
Even after the district court dismissed the complaint against Gonzales, Cobbler amended their complaint to allege that he either directly infringed their copyright by allowing others to download illegally on his IP address, or alternatively, that he contributed to the illegal downloads by not policing his own network for illegal downloads.
Not only did the appellate court agree that Gonzales could not be held liable for copyright infringement as he had no hand in the downloads, and no intent whatsoever. The court also found that the plaintiff's argument that Gonzales should have been monitoring his network rather unpersuasive, particularly considering how easily and often internet connections are shared, and often unknowingly. It explained:
Imposing such a duty would put at risk any purchaser of internet service who shares access with a family member or roommate, or who is not technologically savvy enough to secure the connection to block access by a frugal neighbor. This situation hardly seems to be one of "the circumstances in which it is just to hold one individual accountable for the actions of another."