BitTorrent Downloads Are Protected Anonymous Speech

Miami Judge Marc Schumacher has issued a landmark order in which he protects accused BitTorrent downloaders from mass-lawsuits filed by copyright holders. One of the main arguments of the judge is that these “fishing expeditions” violate BitTorrent users’ right to anonymous speech, which is protected by the constitution. The order effectively kills all BitTorrent lawsuits in Florida state courts.
Every first year law student knows that copyright-related court cases are exclusively a matter of federal law. You can’t bring a copyright suit in state court, period.
However, starting last year more and more BitTorrent-related cases were filed at Florida state courts. The copyright holders in these cases are exploiting a loophole based on the pure bill of discovery, which allows them to demand subpoenas to send to Internet providers without having to provide any evidence.
For months this cheap trick proved to be very effective, but not anymore. In the case of movie studio Boy Racer against 615 unnamed BitTorrent users, Judge Marc Schumacher has issued a landmark ruling.
The judge starts off by describing mass-BitTorrent lawsuits as “fishing expeditions” and brands the copyright holders as trolls.
“[These suits are].. used to extort settlements from defendants who are neither subject to the courts’ personal jurisdiction nor guilty of copyright infringement, but who are fearful of the consequences of being publicly named as a defendant in a suit that seeks disclosure of the contents of their personal computers.”
The judge notes that many federal courts have dismissed BitTorrent lawsuits, and he himself now does the same, but for different reasons.
The basis of the dismissal is the fact that “copyright trolls” are violating BitTorrent users’ right to anonymous speech, a right that’s protected by the First Amendment.
“The Supreme Court often has recognized that the First Amendment protects anonymous speech. Other federal courts have held that Internet users sharing copyrighted works via the BitTorrent application are themselves engaged in anonymous speech that warrants First Amendment protection,” the judge writes in his order.