Have you discussed pirating media on the internet? These film studios might like a word

A very upset admiral from World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth bares a grimace.
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Piracy is, and shall likely forever remain, a topic of hot-debate. Whatever your views on the morality of pirating copyrighted works, be they games, films or otherwise, it would seem reasonable to assume that you could talk about it on the internet without getting yourself into hot water.

That might not be the case, at least if these two film studios get their way. Via Ars Technica, film studios Voltage Holdings and Screen Media Ventures have filed a motion to compel Reddit to respond to a subpoena which asked the company to provide the IP address log information for six anonymous Reddit users who discussed pirating media on its platform.

This is the latest move in a series of copyright infringement cases in the past year from multiple studios attempting to demand Reddit hand over user information, in order to legally pursue the ISPs that these redditors discussed as being unable, or at the very least unwilling, to prevent them from pirating media using the connections provided.

Two previous attempts have been unsuccessful, with the first quashed by a US District Court due to the First Amendment rights of the users to anonymous speech, meaning that Reddit didn't have to disclose information including names, email addresses and account information for the users in question. This didn't stop those same companies trying again, this time in an attempt to sue another ISP over alleged copyright infringement over its network. 

Again, Reddit was subpoenaed for user account information including IP addresses and logs, and again a court ruled against it, citing First Amendment rights. 

However, two of the studios involved in these initial cases seem to have decided that the third time might be the charm, as both have now filed a motion in yet another attempt to make Reddit hand over users IP address log information in order to pursue an ISP. The target this time is Frontier Communications, which several of these Reddit users discussed as being ineffective at stopping them from pirating media.

In 2022, one user mentioned in a post regarding a different ISPs piracy protections that they'd "been using Frontier DSL for years" and that "Despite the shitty internet, they didn't give a shit what I downloaded". Another reported that they'd received a total of 44 emails from Frontier in regards to downloading torrents, and a threat to terminate the service, but as yet no action had been taken.

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The studios argue that in these and other identified posts "The Reddit users do not have a recognized privacy interest in their IP addresses" and that the IP address logs are "clearly relevant and proportional to the needs of the case".

Whatever your take on the legality and ethics of the great piracy debate, or perhaps even the wisdom of discussing an illegal activity openly on a public forum, it's troubling that these studios feel it necessary to demand sensitive user data from a third party in order to pursue legal action, simply for the crime of discussing the activity itself.

There's no doubt that the posters involved here were, at the very least unwise in their decision to post so openly about the illegal activity they had partaken in, but using it as cause to legally demand that the site hosting these posts hands over identifying user data seems extreme. 

While it remains to be seen whether this particular attempt will be successful, it does serve as a reminder that your online posting does not remain in a digital vacuum, whatever the subject, and that organisations are on the lookout for these sorts of discussions. 

It should go without saying, but your posts on a public forum are, well, public, and so caution in what you discuss is most certain to be advised.

Andy Edser
Hardware Writer

Andy built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 12, when IDE cables were a thing and high resolution wasn't. After spending over 15 years in the production industry overseeing a variety of live and recorded projects, he started writing his own PC hardware blog for a year in the hope that people might send him things. Sometimes they did.

Now working as a hardware writer for PC Gamer, Andy can be found quietly muttering to himself and drawing diagrams with his hands in thin air. It's best to leave him to it.