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Call of the Wild Movie, LLC v. Does 1-1

March 22, 2011

CALL OF THE WILD MOVIE, LLC,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
DOES 1-1,062, DEFENDANTS.
MAVERICK ENTERTAINMENT GROUP, INC.,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
DOES 1-4,350,
DEFENDANTS.
DONKEYBALL MOVIE, LLC,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
DOES 1-171,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Beryl A. Howell

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Currently before the Court are Time Warner Cable's (hereinafter "Time Warner") Motions to Quash or Modify subpoenas that were issued in three pending copyright infringement cases: Call of the Wild Movie, LLC v. Does 1-1,062, No. 10-cv-455 (hereinafter "Wild"); Maverick Entertainment Group, Inc. v. Does 1-4,350, No. 10-cv-569 (hereinafter "Maverick"); and Donkeyball Movie, LLC v. Does 1-117, No. 10-cv-1520 (hereinafter "Donkeyball"). In the interest of judicial economy, this Memorandum Opinion will address and resolve the issues related to Time Warner's motions to quash pending before the Court in all three of the captioned actions. In so doing, however, the Court emphasizes that these cases have not been consolidated for any purpose. This Memorandum Opinion, moreover, should in no way leave the parties with the impression that the Court views these cases as inextricably related; rather, with respect to Time Warner's pending motions to quash, the relevant factual allegations, legal theories and asserted burdens are the same and may be addressed in a unitary opinion.

Time Warner claims that the subpoenas issued to it in each of the three cases should be quashed due to the undue burden that Time Warner faces with compliance. Wild, ECF No. 7, May 13, 2010; Maverick, ECF No. 18, Nov. 22, 2010; Donkeyball, ECF No. 7, Dec. 13, 2010. Alternatively, Time Warner argues that the subpoenas should be substantially modified to require production of the requested information on a schedule that would likely take about three years. See Time Warner Mem. Supp. Mot. Quash, Wild, at 11, ECF No. 7 (requesting the Court to modify subpoena to limit Time Warner's production responsibilities to 28 IP addresses a month); see generally Time Warner Mem. Supp. Mot. Quash, Maverick, ECF No. 18, at 4-5; Time Warner Mem. Supp. Mot. Quash, Donkeyball, ECF No. 7, at 4-5. After reviewing Time Warner's Motions, the plaintiffs' opposition papers, the amicus briefs, supplemental filings, as well as the accompanying declarations and applicable law, the Court denies Time Warner's motions to quash in Wild and Donkeyball and grants Time Warner's Motion to Quash in Maverick because the plaintiff failed to serve Time Warner with its subpoena in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(b).

I.FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Wild, Maverick, and Donkeyball are cases in which copyright owners of separate movies allege that their copyrights are being infringed in the same manner. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that varying numbers of defendants, who are currently unnamed, are illegally downloading and distributing copyrighted works using a file-sharing protocol called BitTorrent. In Wild, the Amended Complaint, filed on May 12, 2010, accuses 1,062 unnamed Doe defendants of infringing the copyright of the motion picture Call of the Wild. Wild, ECF No. 6. In Maverick, the Amended Complaint, filed on August 10, 2010, accuses 4,350 unnamed Doe defendants of infringing the copyrights of the motion pictures 13 Hours in a Warehouse, A Numbers Game, Border Town, Deceitful Storm, Fast Track No Limits, He Who Finds a Wife, Hellbinders, Locator 2, Smile Pretty (aka Nasty), Stripper Academy, The Casino Job, The Clique (aka Death Clique), and Trunk. Maverick, ECF No. 9. In Donkeyball, the Complaint, filed on September 8, 2010, accuses 171 unnamed Doe defendants of infringing the copyrights of the motion picture Familiar Strangers. Donkeyball, ECF No. 1.

The putative defendants in each case are alleged to have used a file sharing protocol called BitTorrent, which allows users to share files anonymously with other users. When a user downloads a specific file through BitTorrent -- in this case, plaintiffs' copyrighted motion pictures -- data is transferred in a "piecemeal" fashion whereby "a different piece of the data [is received] from each user who has already downloaded the file . . . ." AmendedCompl., Wild, ¶ 3, ECF No. 6; Amended Compl., Maverick, ¶ 3, ECF No. 9; Compl., Donkeyball, ¶ 3, ECF No. 1; see also Pl.'s Mot. Leave to Take Disc. Prior to Rule 26(f) Conference, Wild, ECF No. 2, Benjamin Perino Decl., ¶¶ 7-8; Pl.'s Mot. Leave to Take Disc. Prior to Rule 26(f) Conference, Maverick, ECF No. 4, Benjamin Perino Decl., ¶¶ 7-8; Pl.'s Mot. Leave to Take Disc. Prior to Rule 26(f) Conference, Donkeyball, ECF No. 4, Benjamin Perino Decl., ¶¶ 7-8. The nature of the BitTorrent file-sharing technology "makes every downloader also an uploader of the illegally transferred file(s)." Amended Compl., Wild, ¶ 3, ECF No. 6; Amended Compl., Maverick, ¶ 4, ECF No. 9; Compl., Donkeyball, ¶ 4, ECF No. 1. Since users download material from a number of other individuals, "every infringer is simultaneously stealing copyrighted material from many ISPs in numerous jurisdictions around the country." Amended Compl., Wild, ¶ 4, ECF No. 6; Amended Compl., Maverick, ¶ 4, ECF No. 9; Compl., Donkeyball,¶ 4, ECF No. 1.

In an effort to combat illegal transfer of their copyrighted movies, the plaintiffs in Wild, Maverick, and Donkeyball contracted with Guardaley Limited, an anti-piracy firm that uses proprietary technology to identify BitTorrent users sharing the plaintiffs' copyrighted works. See Pl.'s Mot. Leave to Take Disc. Prior to Rule 26(f) Conference, Wild, ECF No. 2, Benjamin Perino Decl., ¶ 10.*fn1 The plaintiffs assert that Guardaleywas able to identify the users that were illegally sharing the plaintiffs' motion pictures, and then provided the plaintiffs with the alleged infringers' Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, as well as the date and time the alleged infringement activity occurred. Id.; see also Pl.'s Mot. Leave to Take Disc. Prior to Rule 26(f) Conference, Wild, ECF No. 2, Patrick Achache Decl., at ¶¶ 13-14. The difficulty for the plaintiffs, however, is that they have no identifying information for these alleged infringers aside from the IP addresses that Guardaley supplied.

To obtain certain identifying information for the putative defendants, plaintiffs moved for expedited discovery. Pl.'s Mot. Leave to Take Disc. Prior to Rule 26(f) Conference, Wild, ECF No. 2; Pl.'s Mot. Leave to Take Disc. Prior to Rule 26(f) Conference, Maverick, ECF No. 4; Pl.'s Mot. Leave to Take Disc. Prior to Rule 26(f) Conference, Donkeyball, ECF No. 4. The Court in each case granted plaintiffs leave to subpoena Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to compel production of the names, addresses, emails, phone numbers, and Media Access Control numbers associated with the alleged infringing IP addresses that the plaintiffs identified as engaging in infringing distribution of their respective movies. Order Granting Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to Take Disc. Prior to Rule 26(f) Conference, Wild, Apr. 15, 2010, ECF No. 4 (Urbina, J.); Order Granting Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to Take Disc. Prior to Rule 26(f) Conference, Maverick, No. 10-569, May, 24 2010, ECF No. 7 (Leon, J.); Order Granting Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to Take Disc. Prior to Rule 26(f) Conference, Donkeyball, Oct. 19, 2010, ECF No. 6 (Sullivan, J.). Time Warner received subpoenas for information relating to 224 Time Warner subscribers in Wild, 783 subscribers in Maverick, and 21 subscribers in Donkeyball. Time Warner Mot. Quash, Wild,ECF No. 7, Ex. 1; Time Warner Mot. Quash, Maverick, ECF No. 18, Ex. 1; Time Warner Mot. Quash, Donkeyball, ECF No. 7, Ex. 1. Time Warner responded by moving to quash the subpoenas on grounds that producing the requested information would impose an undue burden and expense. Wild, May 13, 2010, ECF No. 7; Maverick, Nov. 22, 2010, ECF No. 18; Donkeyball, Dec. 13, 2010, ECF No. 7. In support of Time Warner's motion to quash in Wild, amicus briefs were submitted collectively by Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Citizen, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, and American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital. Minute Order, Wild, dated Jan. 3, 2011 (granting Amici leave to file amicus brief) (Urbina, J.). Amici urge the Court to quash the subpoena issued to Time Warner based upon improper joinder, lack of personal jurisdiction over the putative defendants, and the putative defendants' First Amendment right to anonymity.

Following re-assignment to this Court, on March 1, 2011, the Court held a joint conference in these cases to hear oral argument on Time Warner's motions. Time Warner, Amici, the plaintiffs, and an attorney representing three putative defendants participated.*fn2 At the conference, the Court stated that it would accept supplemental filings in the case in order to more fully develop the record on the burdens faced by Time Warner.*fn3 See Minute Order, Wild, March 9, 2011. Amici, plaintiffs, and Time Warner each filed supplemental material.

If the Court were to accept the Amici's arguments, not only would the Court quash the subpoenas directed toward Time Warner, but plaintiffs' cases would face significant obstacles.*fn4

For this reason, the Court addresses Amici's contentions before turning to Time Warner's arguments in support of quashing or modifying the plaintiffs' subpoenas.

II.AMICI'S CONTENTION THAT THE PUTATIVE DEFENDANTS ARE IMPROPERLY JOINED

Amici argue that the Court should quash the subpoenas directed to Time Warner because the plaintiffs have improperly joined the putative defendants. See FED. R. CIV. P. 20(a)(2). For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that the plaintiffs' allegations against the putative defendants in each case meet the requirements for permissive joinder. After the putative defendants have been identified and named in the Complaints, the defendants may raise the argument that they are improperly joined under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20 and move to sever the joined defendants under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21. Severance at this stage, however, as numerous other courts both in and outside this District have held, is premature. See, e.g., Achte/Neunte Boll Kino Beteiligungs GMBH & Co, KG v. Does 1 - 4,577, No. 10-cv-00453, ECF No. 34 (D.D.C. July 2, 2010) (Collyer, J.); West Bay One, Inc. v. Does 1-1653, No. 10-cv-00481, ECF No. 25 (D.D.C. July 2, 2010) (Collyer, J.); Arista Records LLC v. Does 1-19, 551 F. Supp. 2d 1, 11 (D.D.C. 2008) (Kollar-Kotelly, J.); London-Sire Records, Inc. v. Doe 1, 542 F. Supp. 2d 153, 161 n.7 (D. Mass. 2008); Sony Music Entm't, Inc. v. Does 1-40, 326 F. Supp. 2d 556, 568 (S.D.N.Y. 2004).

A.LEGAL STANDARD

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defendants may be joined in one action when claims arise from the same transaction or occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences; and any question of law or fact in the action is common to all defendants. FED. R. CIV. P. 20(a)(2); see also Montgomery v. STG Int'l, Inc., 532 F. Supp. 2d 29, 35 (D.D.C. Jan. 30, 2008) (interpreting Rule 20(a)(1), which has the same requirements as Rule 20(a)(2)).

Permissive joinder is appropriate "to promote trial convenience and expedite the final resolution of disputes, thereby preventing multiple lawsuits, extra expense to the parties, and loss of time to the court as well as the litigants appearing before it." M.K. v. Tenet, 216 F.R.D. 133, 137 (D.D.C. 2002). The requirements for permissive joinder are "liberally construed in the interest of convenience and judicial economy in a manner that will secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of the action." Lane v. Tschetter, No. 05-1414, 2007 WL 2007493, at *7 (D.D.C. July 10, 2007) (quoting Jonas v. Conrath, 149 F.R.D. 520, 523 (S.D. W.Va. 1993)); see also Davidson v. District of Columbia, 736 F. Supp. 2d 115, 119 (D.D.C. 2010). Thus, "the impulse is toward entertaining the broadest possible scope of action consistent with fairness to the parties; [and] joinder of claims, parties, and remedies is strongly encouraged." United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 724 (1966).

The remedy for improper joinder is severance under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21. This rule does not set forth what constitutes misjoinder, but "it is well-settled that parties are misjoined when the preconditions of permissive joinder set forth in Rule 20(a) have not been satisfied." Disparte v. Corporate Exec. Bd., 223 F.R.D. 7, 12 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting Puricelli v. CNA Ins. Co., 185 F.R.D. 139, 142 (N.D.N.Y. 1999)). Courts have also read Rule 21 in conjunction with Rule 42(b), which allows the court to sever claims in order to avoid prejudice to any party. Tenet, 216 F.R.D. at 138 (citing Brereton v. Commc'ns Satellite Corp., 116 F.R.D. 162, 163 (D.D.C.1987)); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 42(b) ("For convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize, the court may order a separate trial of one or more separate issues, claims, crossclaims, counterclaims, or third-party claims."). In addition to the two requirements of Rule 20(a)(2), the Court therefore also considers whether joinder would prejudice any party or result in needless delay. See Lane, 2007 WL 2007493, at *7; Tenet, 216 F.R.D. at 138.

B.DISCUSSION

Consideration of the two requirements for permissive joinder under Rule 20(a)(2) and their application to the allegations in the Complaints in Wild, Maverick, and Donkeyball make clear that, at this procedural juncture, joinder of the putative defendants is proper. Joinder will avoid prejudice and needless delay for the only party currently in the case, namely the plaintiff, and promote judicial economy.

1. Same Transaction, Occurrence, or Series of Transactions or Occurrences

Rule 20(a)(2)(A) states that joinder is proper if "any right to relief is asserted against [the joined defendants] jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences." This essentially requires claims asserted against joined parties to be "logically related." Disparte, 223 F.R.D. at 10. This is a flexible test and courts seek the "broadest possible scope of action." Lane, 2007 WL 2007493, at *7 (quoting Gibbs, 383 U.S. at 724). In the present case, the plaintiffs allege that the putative defendants in each case used the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol to illegally distribute the plaintiffs' motion pictures. Amended Compl., Wild, ECF No. 6, ¶12. Amici counter, however, that engaging in "separate but similar behavior by individuals allegedly using the Internet to commit copyright infringement" does not satisfy Rule 20(a)(2)(A)'s requirement that the claim asserted against the joined defendants arise out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences. Mem. of Amici Curiae Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Citizen, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital in Supp. Time Warner's Mot. Quash, Wild (hereinafter "Amici Mem."), at 11-12, ECF No. 18. Despite Amici's arguments, at this nascent stage of the case, the plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the infringing activity at issue in each of the cases may involve multiple computers, based in various jurisdictions, which are using the BitTorrent protocol to make available for sharing the same copyrighted content.

Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol "makes every downloader also an uploader of the illegally transferred file(s). This means that every "node" or peer user who has a copy of the infringing copyrighted material on a torrent network must necessarily also be a source of download for that infringing file." Amended Compl., Wild, ¶3, ECF No. 6. The plaintiffs further assert that the "nature of a BitTorrent protocol [is that] any seed peer that has downloaded a file prior to the time a subsequent peer downloads the same file is automatically a source for the subsequent peer so long as that first seed peer is online at the time the subsequent peer downloads a file." Id. at ¶ 4.

Based on these allegations, the plaintiffs' claims against the defendants are logically related. Each putative defendant is a possible source for the plaintiffs' motion pictures, and may be responsible for distributing the motion pictures to the other putative defendants, who are also using the same file-sharing protocol to copy the identical copyrighted material. See Disparte, 223 F.R.D. at 10 (to satisfy Rule 20(a)(2)(A) claims must be "logically related" and this test is "flexible."). While the defendants may be able to rebut these allegations later, the plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that their claims against the defendants potentially stem from the same transaction or occurrence, and are logically related. See Arista Records LLC v. Does 1-19, 551 F. Supp. 2d 1, 11 (D.D.C.) ("While the Courts notes that the remedy for improper joinder is severance and not dismissal, . . . the Court also finds that this inquiry is premature without first knowing Defendants' identities and the actual facts and circumstances associated with Defendants' conduct.").

2.Question of Law or Fact Common to All Defendants

Rule 20(a)(2)(B) requires the plaintiffs' claims against the putative defendants to contain a common question of law or fact. See Disparte, 223 F.R.D. at 11. The plaintiffs meet this requirement. In each case, the plaintiff will have to establish against each putative defendant the same legal claims concerning the validity of the copyrights in the movies at issue and the infringement of the exclusive rights reserved to the plaintiffs as copyright holders.

Furthermore, the plaintiffs allege that the putative defendants utilized the same BitTorrent file-sharing protocol to illegally distribute and download the plaintiffs' motion pictures and, consequently, factual issues related to how BitTorrent works and the methods used by plaintiffs to investigate, uncover and collect evidence about the infringing activity will be essentially identical for each putative defendant. Amended Compl., Wild, ¶ 3; Amended Compl, Maverick, ¶ 3; Compl., Donkeyball, ¶ 3.

The Court recognizes that each putative defendant may later present different factual and substantive legal defenses but that does not defeat, at this stage of the proceedings, the commonality in facts and legal claims that support joinder under Rule 20(a)(2)(B).

3. Prejudice to Any Party or Needless Delay

Finally, the Court must assess whether joinder would prejudice the parties or result in needless delay. At this stage in the litigation, the Court believes it will not. To the contrary, joinder in a single case of the putative defendants who allegedly infringed the same copyrighted material promotes judicial efficiency and, in fact, is beneficial to the putative defendants. See London-Sire Records, Inc. v. Doe 1, 542 F. Supp. 2d 153, 161 (D. Mass. 2008) (court consolidated separate Doe lawsuits for copyright infringement since the "cases involve similar, even virtually identical, issues of law and fact: the alleged use of peer-to-peer software to share copyrighted sound recordings and the discovery of defendants' identities through the use of a Rule 45 subpoena to their internet service provider. Consolidating the cases ensures administrative efficiency for the Court, the plaintiffs, and the ISP, and allows the defendants to see the defenses, if any, that other John Does have raised.").

Notably, as part of the motion to modify the subpoena, Time Warner asks the Court to intervene in a cost dispute with plaintiffs' counsel and require payment for each IP address for which the subpoena requires identifying information rather than payment per customer. Time Warner Mem. Supp. Mot. Quash, Wild, at 12, ECF No. 7. The import of this request is that some IP addresses may relate to the same person, who is engaged in the allegedly infringing activities claimed by plaintiffs. Severance of the putative defendants associated with different IP addresses may subject the same Time Warner customer to multiple suits for different instances of allegedly infringing activity and, thus, would not be in the interests of the putative defendants.

Moreover, the putative defendants are currently identified only by their IP addresses and are not named parties. Consequently, they are not required to respond to the plaintiffs' allegations or assert a defense. The defendants may be able to demonstrate prejudice once the plaintiffs proceed with their cases against them, but they cannot demonstrate any harm that is occurring to them before that time.

The plaintiffs, by contrast, are currently obtaining identifying information from ISPs so that they can properly name and serve the defendants. If the Court were to consider severance at this juncture, plaintiffs would face significant obstacles in their efforts to protect their copyrights from illegal file-sharers and this would only needlessly delay their cases. The plaintiffs would be forced to file 5,583 separate lawsuits, in which they would then move to issue separate subpoenas to ISPs for each defendant's identifying information. Plaintiffs would additionally be forced to pay the Court separate filing fees in each of these cases, which would further limit their ability to protect their legal rights. This would certainly not be in the "interests of convenience and judicial economy," or "secure a just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of the action." Lane, 2007 WL 2007493, at *7 (declining to sever defendants where "parties joined for the time being promotes more efficient case management and discovery" and no party prejudiced by joinder).

Given the administrative burden of simply obtaining sufficient identifying information to properly name and serve alleged infringers, it is highly unlikely that the plaintiffs could protect their copyrights in a cost-effective manner. Indeed, Time Warner urges the Court to sever the defendants for this very reason. Time Warner asserts that, if joinder were disallowed, its burden of complying with subpoenas would be diminished because the plaintiffs would not be able to proceed against all of the putative defendants individually. See Transcript of Mot. Hearing, 14-16, Call of the Wild Movie LLC v. Does 1-1,063, No. 10-cv-455 (Mar. 1, 2011).

At this procedural juncture, the plaintiffs have met the requirements of permissive joinder under Rule 20(a)(2). The putative defendants are not prejudiced but likely benefited by joinder, and severance would debilitate the plaintiffs' efforts to protect their copyrighted materials and seek redress from the putative defendants who have allegedly engaged in infringing activity. Courts are instructed to "entertain[] the broadest possible scope of action consistent with fairness to the parties.'" Lane, 2007 WL 2007493, at *7. While this Court is fully cognizant of the logistical and administrative challenges of managing a case with numerous putative defendants, a number of whom may seek to file papers pro se, severing the putative defendants is no solution to ease the administrative burden of the cases. The Court therefore declines to sever the putative defendants at this time.

III.AMICI'S CONTENTION THAT THE COURT DOES NOT HAVE PERSONAL JURISDICTION OVER THE PUTATIVE DEFENDANTS

Amici further argue that the Court should quash the subpoenas issued to Time Warner because the plaintiffs have failed to properly establish personal jurisdiction over each putative defendant. Amici contend that the plaintiffs "failed to allege specific facts" to support jurisdiction and that the likelihood of the defendants uploading or downloading the plaintiffs' copyrighted movies in the District of Columbia is "exceedingly small." Amici Reply Brief, at 5-6, ECF No. 22. Given that the defendants have yet to ...


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