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December 01, 2017

Downloading Copyrighted Porn? Your Name Could Be Made Public

CYBERSPACE—Porn fans who download their adult entertainment illegally through torrent sites or other online channels may soon find that their identities could become public if they get caught. A federal appeals court issued a decision on Tuesday that makes it more difficult for internet copyright violators to stop their names from becoming public record. A three-judge panel on the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the right to anonymous speech, generally protected under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment free speech guarantees, are less important than the public’s right to know what goes on in court cases. Under previous court rulings, the identities of copyright violators have generally been protected by a legal “balancing act” in which the right to anonymous speech is weighed by courts against the public interest in revealing a copyright infringer’s identity. But the Sixth Circuit ruling changes all that, according to a report on the case by the Law360 legal site. (Link behind paywall.) Under the new ruling—handed down by a two-to-one majority—once an internet user has been found liable for copyright infringement by a court, his or her identity is likely to be made public when court records are published. Previous cases dealt with the right to anonymity for alleged infringers who hadn’t yet been hit with copyright violation judgments. “No case has considered the issue presented here,” wrote Judge Helene White in the majority decision, “whether and under what circumstances a court can properly protect a party’s anonymity after judgment.”  In other words, if you’ve been sued for downloading a copyrighted porn video, make sure you don’t lose the case. If you do lose, your name will be all over the internet. While still estimated to be a nearly $100 billion global industry, adult entertainment has seen revenues plunge over the last decade thanks to online pirating. Thousands of porn fans have found themselves the target of lawsuits over copyright violations, and while many of them have been filed by copyright trolls, the number of legitimate piracy cases is still very large. The court ruling did not directly involve porn, but instead came in the case of a multi-level marketing company, Signature Management Team, which sued an anonymous blogger who had posted the entire text of a training manual copyrighted by the company, making it downloadable for free by anyone who clicked on a link provided by the blog. But the court ruling did not require that the blogger’s name be released to the public, instead saying that courts should make a “strong presumption” that the public’s right to know outweighs the copyright violator’s right to stay anonymous—leading the unnamed defendant’s lawyer on the case, Joshua Kolton, to characterize the decision as “a victory for the First Amendment protection of anonymous speech.” A third judge on the panel,  Richard Suhrheinrich, issued his own dissenting opinion that went even further than the two-judge majority, arguing that once a copyright violator loses a court judgement, his or her name should be automatically publicized, no matter what.

 
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