French Judge to RIAA: “GOVT approval needed to trace IP addresses”

In another blow to the overly aggressive, no-holds-barred tactics of the RIAA, the IFPI, and others of similar ilk, a French court has ruled that music companies and other copyright holders “…cannot conduct unrestrained internet monitoring to find pirates.”

The verdict is a rare win for privacy-rights advocates who regularly monitor the extensive lengths that copyright holders will go to in order to weed out piracy on the internet.

The case it involves is an odd one but, it could be an important precedent-setting turn of events for the protection of an individual’s privacy in France.

Aziz Ridouan, president of the Association of Audio Surfers, a group that defends people charged with illegal downloading, said that the “The judge’s decision defends the privacy of individuals over the intrusion from record labels.”
A guy from the Paris suburb of Bobigny had his IP address was traced while he was using the P2P file-sharing program Shareaza.

The IP address was then handed over to the local police for prosecution for copyright violations and infringement.

Olivier Hugot, who served as lawyer for the acquitted, says “The right-holders found the IP address of my client and reported it to the police…(and) The annulment of the case is important because it has direct impact on the tactics used by record companies in dozens of cases in France.”

The verdict could now leave music companies and other copyright holders vulnerable to lawsuits for invasion of privacy by other individuals who may know or suspect that their IP has been illegally traced as well. Invasion of privacy carries fines of up to $300,000€, or $395,000USD, and five years in prison.

The verdict also sends an unusually stark warning that the invasion of privacy on the internet will not be tolerated, and that it is the authorities who should be tracking down the “criminals” and not rogue individuals or firms.

“The rights-holders should now understand that they cannot set up a system to identify down loaders on the Internet without proper authorization from us,” said Matthias Moulin, a legal adviser at the French government watchdog that defends privacy on the Internet, the National Commission for Information Technology and Liberty. “It is important to have these protections established by a court,” he continued.

In it’s response to the ruling, Sophie Duhamel, communications director for the Society of Music Authors, Composers and Publishers, the organization responsible for tracing IP addresses of users, commented that “This is just an isolated decision amid the many cases that we have successfully pursued.” She added “That said, it is not so good to have the decision in the jurisprudence.”

Though I tend to disagree that private individuals should not be allowed to trace or monitor the IP addresses of P2P and file-sharing programs and networks, it is very refreshing to hear of a case in which a users privacy trumped the cries of piracy.

A case that comes to mind that makes me think some monitoring of IP addresses by private individuals and concerns is a good thing involves Zeropaid’s very own Jorge Gonzalez. Jorge, some of you may recall, introduced a Wall of Shame to Zeropaid for a time some years ago that logged and monitored the IP addresses of individuals who used the Gnutella file-sharing program to download pedophilia related images and material.

I don’t think that any sane person would argue against the monitoring or tracing IP addresses for such a noble endeavor, and thereby makes me wonder what proverbial lines in the sand a country should draw when it comes to privacy on the internet.

What types of internet use deserve protection from the prying eyes of others?

If we can agree that pedophilia related behavior is not an acceptable use that deserves protection, what other crimes should allow non-government entities the right to trace and monitor the IP addresses of users?

I guess this is a better question for us all to debate instead of the more narrower focus on piracy. I don’t think the new Beck album or Rocky Balboa DVD screener is worth the loss of individual privacy rights but, I do think some crimes are.

What’s I also find interesting in this case is the fact that there’s still a country in the world where the courts seem to make decisions that err on the side of individual rights and freedoms unlike here.

We used to be that kind of country, a beacon of freedom and hope in an otherwise dark and oppressive world but, somewhere along the way the rights of the individual, the rules of democracy, lost out to the rights of the corporation, the rules of capitalism.

Maybe, just maybe the French aren’t so bad after all.