Copyright Troll Sues Tor Exit Node, Gets Partial Win

Copyright trolls still labor under the (deliberate) misconception that an IP address is a person. Sometimes judges allow it. Sometimes judges remind them not to conflate the two. And sometimes — well, maybe just this once — the IP address being sued is actually a Tor exit node, evidence of nothing. (h/t Raul)

In an opinion handed down by Judge Michael Simon, the person Dallas Buyers Club is suing for infringement will be subject to adverse jury instructions thanks to the Tor exit node DBC sued. The order refers to alleged evidence spoliation by the defendant, who shut down his exit node after being sued. The defendant has (correctly) pointed out “Evidence of what?” because it’s highly unlikely his node would cough up any usable identifying information about infringers utilizing the node.

All DBC had was an IP address, and it wasn’t linked to the defendant — at least not in terms of it being his personal computer.

The internet protocol (“IP”) address identified by Plaintiff as infringing on Plaintiff’s movie is an IP address associated with a one of Defendant’s servers. Defendant operated this server as a virtual machine (“VM”). Using VM technology, Defendant migrated information from his old multiple servers onto two servers operating as VMs. One of these is the physical machine associated with the allegedly infringing IP address (“Infringing Machine”).

On the Infringing Machine, Defendant installed Tor Network software and created a “Tor Node,” which facilitates use of the Tor Network by end users by routing information through Defendant’s machine. Also on this machine were VMs for two email servers. The Infringing Machine had two hard drives, which were mirrored. Defendant did not use the Infringing Machine as a personal computer and did not attach any personal computer to this machine. The Infringing Machine was located on a server rack.

It wasn’t until 10 months after the original filing that DBC finally submitted an amended complaint actually naming a human defendant (along with his business “Integrity Computer Services”). Prior to being served himself, the defendant learned of the lawsuit and participated in some discovery conferences. At two points between the lawsuit’s filing and his appearance at the conferences, the defendant attempted to fix his malfunctioning RAID system by deploying a utility that basically wiped everything off the drives. He left the Tor node running and moved anything related to his personal business off the server.

DBC claimed this was done to destroy evidence. The defendant countered, explaining it was highly unlikely a Tor exit node would produce usable information. (He had also offered to shut down the node to “amicably resolve” the lawsuit by ending the alleged infringement his node was supposedly “allowing” to happen.)

The Court finds credible Defendant’s statements that he genuinely believed that his hard drives would not contain any information that would identify or provide relevant data relating to the alleged infringement, based on his understanding of how Tor Nodes operate. Defendant explained his understanding and the basis for it in detail.

The Court also finds instructive the unique facts of this case. The Infringing Machine was not a personal computer from which all data was wiped with after-market software. The Infringing Machine was a Tor Node that routed information for other end users around the world. As Defendant points out, it is questionable that he had a motive to deceive the Court by wiping information that may or may not have identified some unknown user somewhere in the world.

Despite this, the court has decided to sanction the defendant for not preserving what may have been completely useless data. It won’t go as far as DBC wants it to (the troll asked for a default judgment in its favor) but it won’t help the defendant much if this case goes to trial.

Accordingly, the Court orders that the jury shall be instructed as follows:

Defendant John Huszar has failed to preserve computer hard drives that may have contained evidence relevant to this case. You may presume that the lost evidence was favorable to Plaintiff. Whether this finding is important to you in reaching a verdict in this case is for you to decide.

A partial win for the speculative invoicing team at DBC. If this case goes to trial, the defendant starts with a strike against him when the jury goes to deliberate. Perhaps the jury will see the case for what it is: a copyright troll suing a Tor exit node because it can’t be bothered to go after those actually committing infringement. Then again, the discussion of RAID controllers, IP address-cloaking efforts, and other technical details may become “evidence” the defendant had “something to hide.” “Normal” computer users don’t run Tor exit nodes or multiple servers, and when the facts seem weird and ungainly, they tend to work against the person deploying them.

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Author: Tim Cushing

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