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Ask Slashdot: P2P Liability On a Shared Connection? 346

An anonymous reader writes "I have a roommate that insists on using BitTorrent without taking any kind of precautions. He has an affinity for downloading material that is extremely popular and high-risk. He's received a warning from a well-known media giant in the past about his file sharing, but hasn't been sued. We've recently begun living in an apartment together (with one other person) and share our Internet connection and IP address. If his p2p activity leads to someone attempting to take legal action, could I be held liable? How would our accusers differentiate between our computers if we all share the same IP address? Would they just sue the lot of us?" Some lawyers would certainly like to get a look at everything on the other side of the connection. Has anyone out there faced legal problems as a result of someone else's use of your connection?
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Ask Slashdot: P2P Liability On a Shared Connection?

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  • Presumably they would just try and sue whoever they can. Chuck a couple of letters out to whoever lives there and see who caves or settles first.

    If you are renting would the landlord be targetted?
    • If you are renting would the landlord be targetted?

      If the plaintiffs thought they had a chance of prevailing ... absolutely. Similarly, if they thought it would work, they'd also sue your ISP, computer manufacturer, parents, doctor and fifth grade teacher.

      (Do they have a chance? Got me.)

      • Depends on who made the agreement with the ISP.

        Of course, intimidating a plaintiff into settling usually works pretty well too.

    • Presumably they would just try and sue whoever they can. Chuck a couple of letters out to whoever lives there and see who caves or settles first.

      If you are renting would the landlord be targetted?

      No, because the landlord's name isn't on the cable bill. You expect the MAFIAA to research their case? It's whomever set up the account with the ISP that's fucked.

    • I agree, from my experience in my own legal disputes and hearing about others basically when you are suing about something you sue everyone involved and let the courts and evidence shown in them decide who actually gets to foot the bill.

  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @02:48PM (#37363480)
    Since you cant share ownership of an internet account, someone has to have their name on the paper work. If its you, then its your account and you are liable but also in a position to dictate change. If its him, then its his problem.
    • Who says "you are liable"??? IANAL, but it's pretty obvious you aren't, either.

      The idea that the owner of a piece of equipment is liable for someone else's unauthorized use of it, simply won't fly. Some states have done that exclusively in the case of automobiles, but their legal authority to do even that is on pretty thin grounds.

      If somebody, without my permission, uses my internet connection to do something illegitimate, there is no law making me liable or responsible for their actions.
      • by mellon ( 7048 )

        I think "liable" does not mean what you think it means. It doesn't mean you did it. It means you can plausibly be blamed for it. If you are aware that your roommate is engaging in infringing activities using your Internet connection, and you don't do anything to stop it, then it is just naive to think that you won't be found liable. If you want to be protected from this, move, and do not let your "friend" bring computers to your new apartment.

        • No, "liable" means you can be HELD responsible and accountable, no matter who did it. It has nothing to do with blame. Look it up.
      • by Surt ( 22457 )

        But you're describing a different case. He's clearly sharing the connection intentionally, which authorizes the usage. His response needs to be to cut off his roommate if the connection is in his name.

      • The idea that the owner of a piece of equipment is liable for someone else's unauthorized use of it, simply won't fly.

        They are sharing the connection. By definition, that makes the other person an authorized user.

        If the OP were to lock down the router, and refuse to give his roommate the password, then maybe he wouldn't have a problem. Of course, then they wouldn't be sharing the connection any more.

        • Yes, I have already been scolded over this point. I was referring to the general case, not this specific one. Which made my comments somewhat out of context. But still applicable to many situations.
      • "there is no law makingÂ*me*Âliable or responsible for their actions"

        Yes, there is. Due diligence they call it

      • The TOS can require you to indemnify the ISP if *they* get sued.

    • Generally, if you want to 'dictate change,' you need to be willing to take on the full cost of the internet connection if the other guy refuses. Otherwise your threats are just empty words, and you look like an idiot.

      That's assuming they are already splitting the internet bill. If not, then throw a password on that thing and be happy.
    • by cfulmer ( 3166 )
      The non-infringing account owner shouldn't be liable in that situation, but is the one who's likely to be named in the lawsuit. And that's not a fun position to be in, even if you can then convince the content owner that they have the wrong person.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 10, 2011 @02:49PM (#37363486)

    this is not legal advice and i may be a lawyer in your state but am not your lawyer and do not represent you.
    1. If they take legal action you could be sued and held liable. the burden of proof is 1% - i.e. if you are found even 1% liable you could be held liable, even if it was for a trifling amount. its preponderance of the evidence in a civil matter i.e if they show it is more than 51% likely that you were responsible for the 1% liability you are liable.
    2. your accusers would ask for discovery and depending on the judge and state you would have to give up your computers for them to poke around or use a 3rd party lab to poke around for signs of infringement.
    3. Yes they would likely sue everyone in the household who owned a computer.

  • by Derekloffin ( 741455 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @02:49PM (#37363490)
    Even if you assume you are 100% legally in the clear, they can still sue you, get your ISP to cut you off, and make your life generally miserable. Sadly being in the right doesn't mean someone else can't accuse you of being in the legal wrong and thus forcing you to prove otherwise.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Actually, and technically, that's not correct. That is harassment, attempted coercion, interference with a legal contract, and a groundless, malicious suit, which are illegal in many if not most states. (It is even possible it falls under the category of a SLAPP suit, but that might be reaching a bit.)

      I'm not saying that they don't sometimes get away with it, but what they are actually doing in those situations is ILLEGAL.
      • by zill ( 1690130 )
        The RIAA/MPAA racketeering is illegal in many if not most states, yet it continues to happen on a daily basis.

        Tax evasion is illegal in many if not most states, yet it continues to happen on a daily basis.

        What's your point?

        Just because something is illegal doesn't mean it won't happen. If reality really worked that way then Earth becomes a crime-free paradise instantly.
    • Of course, they can do that even without anyone using Bittorrent.

  • Tell your roommate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @02:54PM (#37363514)
    that if you receive any letters from any lawyers you will answer them truthfully. So if you get accused of illegal downloads, you would truthfully reply that you didn't do it, but your roommate.

    It seems your roommate insists, against your objections, to do things that are illegal, and bound to get you into expensive trouble, without taking any precautions. If the shit hits the fan, you have no obligation at all to support him in any way; your only responsibility is to get out of trouble yourself as cheaply as possible.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Kicking him out would be responsible. I do assume he owns the apartment and if not then leave and get a new place.

    • Given the roommate's behavior, it's likely that should OP do as you suggest, his roommate will simply deny downloading anything. And I believe the wording on most ISP contracts makes the account owner liable for all activity on the account (with a possible exception for being hacked).
      • by Surt ( 22457 )

        Liable to the ISP, not 3rd parties. So if the ISP gets sued, they can in turn come after you.

  • Simple... (Score:5, Informative)

    by penguinbrat ( 711309 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @02:54PM (#37363516)
    Put the connection in his name, the warning goes to him - the law suit goes to him...
  • by mrquagmire ( 2326560 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @02:56PM (#37363530)
    Run a Tor exit node and open up a guest wireless connection that anyone can use.
    • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @04:40PM (#37364098)

      Run a Tor exit node and open up a guest wireless connection that anyone can use.

      "Plausible deniability" doesn't have the same meaning to the middle aged, middle class, judge or juror as it does to the eternerally adolescent P2P geek.

      Often it translates simply as "Who does that jerk think he is kidding?"

      I live west of a state park that closes at sunset. To the east more greenspace. If late night downloads to this IP address are time-stamped the culprit almost certainly has to be me.

  • A few years ago (circa MS Flight Sim X) my unprotected wireless was used to download and share the aforementioned software through a torrent. MS contacted my ISP (Cox) and I got a letter from MS's IP dept. I had to go through quite a bit of paperwork and finally talk to someone at MS. I explained that I didn't realize my neighbors had access to my wireless (honestly didn't think it would reach). Basically I was told this was my one and only chance, don't let it happen again and secure my router.
    • That's still nothing but intimidation. They can't legally make you secure your router! Nor can they try to hold you responsible if there is reason to believe someone else did it... unsecured router or not!

      They were bullying you. Nothing more. Nothing less. And you fell for it.
      • But next time they can say "oh, this guy again" and jump straight to the part where he gets sued. Even if someone else did it it's going to take time, effort, money and lawyers to sort it out.

  • by FliesLikeABrick ( 943848 ) <> on Saturday September 10, 2011 @03:05PM (#37363566)
    Granted it's a lot of logs - but if you put in a linux+iptables or bsd+pf box as your router, you could log every connection to file - at least text zips well. store them for 6 months, only log connections which become fully established (since if you log half-open connections you'll likely be logging orders of magnitude more). It probably wouldn't take up a huge volume of space if you compress them, and you could also probably not log outgoing connections terminating on port 80 or 443 (though undoubtedly peer clients try and use those from time to time, it'd help you shave your logs if you hedge your bets that someone looking to sue your roomate isn't using 80/443 for their endpoint).

    This in addition to truthfully answering lawyers' questions should cover your ass plenty sufficiently.
  • Let's rephrase the question.

    Dear Slashdot:

    My roommate insists on doing things that might create expensive legal nightmares for me. I've asked him to stop, but he won't. What should I do?

    The answer is, "Get a new roommate. Your current one is not respecting you, as evidenced by his disregard for your wishes and the way he's exposing you to potentially massive legal fees. You need to be able to trust your roommate, and you apparently can't trust your current one. Finding a new roommate might be hard, bu

    • Absolutely. Or cut off their physical access (wired access only, tied to mac address and port number, with the switch in a locked area, authentication required to connect so if he unplugs your cable into his machine and spoofs your address, he still can't use it.

      And while you're at it, make sure you don't download anything questionable either. The time you're wasting watching that "must-watch" show/move could be used doing something more interesting.

    • Let's rephrase the question.

      Dear Slashdot:

      My roommate insists on doing things that might create expensive legal nightmares for me. I've asked him to stop, but he won't. What should I do?

      The answer is, "Get a new roommate. Your current one is not respecting you, as evidenced by his disregard for your wishes and the way he's exposing you to potentially massive legal fees. You need to be able to trust your roommate, and you apparently can't trust your current one. Finding a new roommate might be hard, but it's necessary. Good luck!"

      With respect to the legal question you've raised, the only answer here is "talk to a real lawyer." Trusting Slashdot to give you legal counsel is, TBH, just flat-out crazy.

      Exactly. What if your roommate were running a meth lab or had a child pornography studio set up in his room? Yes, these are more serious crimes, but the principle is the same. If you are aware that your roommate is engaging in illegal activity that could get you into trouble, it would be prudent to either stop the activity or get a new roommate. You wouldn't give it a second thought if it were one of the more serious crimes listed above.

  • by garyok ( 218493 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @03:20PM (#37363636)

    Technical: Block the standard ports for bittorrent at your router and tell him it's your ISP doing it. Change the password to the router and say the ISP did that remotely because of new T&Cs too. If he's such a low-watt bulb that he doesn't know to download and use PeerBlock or Blocklist Manager, it'd be a stretch to think he'd be able to unravel that cunningly crafted web of deceit.

    Manly: Cut him loose. He couldn't give two shits about how his behaviour affects you. You could be a pussy about it and hope you find a conveniently non-confrontational legal loophole so you never have to take any form of stand against his irresponsibility. Or you could relocate your balls and tell him to take a hike because you're not going to be liable for his douchebaggery.

    Your choice.

    • by gront ( 594175 )
      Not legal advice, but why not get your roomie to sign a piece of paper, an agreement between you and him that you have no knowledge of his Internet activities and he is soley responsible for them, and he is paying you because you are the account holder for billing purposes but in all other ways it is his responsibility for his access? Just imagine if he was looking a kiddie porn... Having that agreement in place ahead of time would really be a Good Thing.
  • Really, is the risk of getting the attention of the copyright/lawsuit industry significantly higher than the risk of, say, him going crazy and murdering you in your sleep or you getting hit by lightning while crossing the street? How many other people are sharing those same extremely popular files as your mate, and how many of them are getting caught?

    In short, is it worth worrying about at all?

    • Starting soon ISPs will be throttling and terminating connections at the request of copyright enforcement firms. This will probably affect internet users on a scale not seen before. While a lawsuit is higher stakes, most people should begin implementing evasive procedures now.
      • by mmcuh ( 1088773 )
        And the minute that starts happening on a large scale, anonymous filesharing is finally going to take off among the larger internet populace. It will be interesting to see whether it will be Freenet, OneSwarm, one of those secret Japanese protocols, or something else.
  • He has an affinity for downloading material that is extremely popular and high-risk.

    Who owns the primary Internet account? Who holds the lease on the apartment? Who is the head of household? The responsible adult here?

    If the answer to any of those questions is you, you have a problem, but you also - quite literally - hold the key to the solution. You can tell your roomate to stop and you can make it stick.

    "High risk" suggests many possibilities. If your roomate is trading in hard core porn over your shared connection, a raid by the ICE or FBI is not out of the question.

    You do not wan

  • ... and block P2P traffic.

    My roommate blew up when I did that.

    Then he noticed that our uselessly slow Internet connection was actually amazingly fast when it wasn't being hammered by improperly configured P2P clients.

    Then peace returned.

  • The main problem I see is that you know about the illegal activity. You could might have gotten off legally if you didn't know even if the ISP account was in your name. But that doesn't stop the *AA from suing you and you spending a lot of money to clear yourself. Remember they have sued people for years before that had no knowledge that their ISP accounts were being used to download copyrighted software. This unfortunately is losing situation for you. If you get sued by the *AA then you are at risk of
    • What? No. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse" is a truism for a reason.

      The main gist of this guy's problem is that he's moved in with an asshole with no concern for his roommates.

      • "Ignorance of the law" only applies to him. He isn't doing anything; those are the actions of his roommate. If he did not know what his roommate was doing, he would have had more of defense; but since he does know, his liability is greater.
  • by pz ( 113803 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @03:55PM (#37363882) Journal

    This is not a technical or legal question. It is a question about relationships. I'll take a stab, but, seriously, it does not belong on Slashdot. It belongs on some advice column.

    As I understand it, you have a roommate who partakes in risky behavior that you have requested he stop. He does not agree to your request. It seems therefore that you need a new roommate since you do not wish to expose yourself to any potential risk and -- this is the important part -- you and he do not have sufficiently compatible lifestyles. You need a new living situation, whether that be by leaving and finding a new apartment on your own, or kicking this fellow out.

    Any other discussions about relative liability or that include technological solutions, while potentially fascinating, are completely and utterly missing the point. This is not a technical or legal problem: it is a problem about relationships.

    • In this specific situation you are correct. This individual needs to stand up and establish boundaries and consequences. However, the deeper question is worth discussing: how screwed is a person if a housemate draws legal fire on their collective heads? Not every household is as aware of the internet habits of each computer in the house. Not every house has a decent network admin. In fact, the offending party might BE the network admin working under the assumption that their actions won't affect their house
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by greatica ( 1586137 )

      Ask your roommate "YOU WOULDN'T STEAL A CAR WOULD YOU?!!!" He will then see the error of his ways and stop downloading.

  • by jroysdon ( 201893 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @04:00PM (#37363906) Homepage

    I don't know what agreements you have in place, but if the Internet connection is in your name, then I would not allow anyone else to connect that you cannot trust.

    If the Internet connection is in your troublesome roommate's name, I would get your own Internet connection. This may be difficult, but most places have at least 2-3 ISP options (DSL, Cable, Clear, etc.). It's too bad you probably can't get two public IPs for your connection and each have your own router for your devices behind it.

    I think paying for your own Internet (or not having your roommate chip in or having to give them a discount for their share of the Internet you are not going to share) is more than worth it.

    When (not if, it will happen eventually unless the laws are changed) your roommate ends up in court and should you somehow get named, your defense will be easy. You never connected to his Internet and have your own. Produce your bills as proof, and that's the end of the story for you.

    I think the advice that someone else gave about keeping logs of where the connection went is a good idea at first thought - and I'm not lawyer - but that sounds kinda shady - you kept logs to prove it wasn't you? How do you prove there wasn't any editing or that you only ever used that one IP? Just sounds like you could have audit problems proving things since you would have access to the logging system. To have it be bulletproof, you need to have some third-party setting up that system without you having access to it.

    • I agree with the parent completely. There are a lot of things you can do which MIGHT help you in a court of law, but I don't see anyone being certain. If you are genuinely concerned that this is going to turn into a problem (The fact he's gotten warning letters is a good sign) then get your own Internet Account, or make him get his own. Yeah, it'll cost you like 50 bucks a month or something like that, but that's not really a very large amount compared to dealing with a law suit.
    • Cable modems authenticate by MAC address hanging two off a coax splitter would be quite practical

  • stop it/get out (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 10, 2011 @04:03PM (#37363926)

    a lot of people are taking the view that "hey it's his problem".

    have you considered the possibility that when the shit hits the fan, this roommate will turn around and say it is YOU who did it? can you prove it isn't you? because i guarantee you the other side won't care - as long as they get their pound of flesh. and even if you CAN prove it, it's gonna be a lot of pain and hassle. you'd better start documenting how/what/why it is that it's NOT you who's downloading it now, because you're gonna get caught in the trawler and trawling is damn well what the other side is doing, it's not precision strikes.

  • by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @04:19PM (#37364000) Journal

    In Denmark & Sweden you'd get busted as this has happened before, and they've set an example in order to get people to really secure their WiFi routers in their homes.

    Say, you have an open network, the old excuse...but...It wasn't me - officer, simply won't hold up in court, you're liable for anything that goes trough your router, your cable, your network.

    What's even worse, is that some politicians in Denmark are these days discussing to forbid anonymous surfing.

    • Funny how all nations have absurd policies on private behavior if you look hard enough. We're always hearing that Nordic countries are basically the pinnacle of human rights and an educated populace, yet when you read something like this you realize there's no true paradise.
      • Absolutely,

        Something totally OT, but relevant to the subject of paradise & freedom, I used to live in Denmark where there is/was some kind of degree of freedom, at least when it comes to free speech, then I moved to Sweden, and guess what - certain drawn porn can get you arrested and thrown in jail for 2 years over here in Sweden.

        We just had a case-example on TV, a young MANGA interpreter that converts Japanese text to Swedish, just got arrested and fined for child porn as some of the Japanese manga ser

  • You are only responsible for his activities if it's criminal liability and you somehow aided and abetted in his actions, either through lending actual assistance, covering him up, or failing to report if you have a duty to do so.

    The bar for civil liability is even higher since often you don't have a duty to police your connection from misuse by others.

    That said, however, the TOS from your service provider might have a joint and several liability clause that you are forced to agree to in the event that one o

  • The best thing your room mate can do (besides not torrenting at all) would be to get a seedbox in another country and use private trackers exclusively. This way, your IP address is never exposed to the swarm. You can download all the files from your seedbox to your house computer using encrypted FTP. You can rent a seedbox, which is just a rented virtual server that is already setup for torrenting, using prepaid credit cards and false personal information. You can get seedboxes in countries with more lax
  • by MarkvW ( 1037596 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @04:44PM (#37364114)

    Consider this scenario. Your friend illegally downloads copyrighted material--and you have full knowledge. Your friend is sued.

    You are subpoenaed.

    Are you going to lie for his ass?
    Are you going to tell the truth and burn your friendship?

    Add a complicator: You are sued also (but you are innocent).

    Ask the two questions again. Further ask yourself: How are you going to defend yourself without fucking your friend over?

    Present this scenario to your friend. Maybe it will wake his selfish sorry ass up.

  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @05:06PM (#37364206) Homepage Journal

    They are first in line to be sued.

    Also, the actions of your roommate could bring down the man on ALL of you, and you get all your stuff confiscated and have to defend yourself in court.

    Not much different if he had drugs mailed to the house, you are all in trouble when the postal service finds out..

  • The responses to this are a whole lot of hot air and legal advice from non-lawyers. The issue is far, far simpler if we just strip it right back to basics.

    Q/ My roommate pulls shit is going to cause both of us hassle someday. I've asked him to stop, but he's a being a dick about it. What should I do?
    A/ Get a new roommate.

"Call immediately. Time is running out. We both need to do something monstrous before we die." -- Message from Ralph Steadman to Hunter Thompson