Berlin MediaArt e.k. v. Does 1 through 654

Filing 24

ORDER by Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley denying 22 Motion to Expedite (ahm, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 1/24/2012)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 8 FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 9 10 Northern District of California United States District Court 11 12 13 14 15 Case No.: 11-03770 (JSC) BERLIN MEDIA ART e.k., ORDER RE: PLAINTIFF’S RENEWED REQUEST FOR DISCOVERY PRIOR TO RULE 26(f) CONFERENCE (Dkt. No. 22) Plaintiff, v. DOES 1 – 44, Defendants. 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 This case is one of several ―mass copyright‖ cases filed in this District on behalf of various plaintiffs against thousands of doe defendants accused of using BitTorrent technology to illegally download copyrighted files from the internet. Now pending before the Court is Plaintiff‘s third motion for limited ex parte discovery under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26(d) and 45 prior to the Rule 26(f) conference. Specifically, Plaintiff seeks to subpoena internet service providers (―ISPs‖) for personal information that will reveal the identities of the 44 Doe Defendants named in this suit. (Dkt. Nos. 20, 22). For the reasons explained below, the Court DENIES the motion. BACKGROUND Plaintiff alleges that the 44 Doe Defendants (―Defendants‖) used BitTorrent, an internet peer-to-peer (―P2P‖) file sharing network, to illegally reproduce and distribute U.S.C. § 501 et seq. (Second Amended Complaint, pp. 1-3 , Dkt. No. 20.) BitTorrent ―allows 3 a user to join a ‗swarm‘ comprised of multiple users hosting the sought after file on their 4 personal computer to download and upload from each other simultaneously.‖ (Dkt. No. 22, p. 5 2). Plaintiff maintains that ―the Defendants were all part of the same swarm,‖ although 6 Plaintiff has not provided information regarding when the swarm occurred. (Dkt. No. 22, p. 7 8). Plaintiff contends that because Defendants‘ conduct occurred behind the mask of their 8 anonymous internet protocol (―IP‖) addresses, Plaintiff cannot identify Defendants without 9 leave to subpoena Defendants‘ internet service providers (―ISPs‖) for the identity of the 10 individual or entity related to each IP address. ―[B]ecause each ISP assigns a unique IP 11 Northern District of California Plaintiff‘s copyrighted work—―Sperma triologie‖—in violation of the Copyright Act, 17 2 United States District Court 1 address to each subscriber and retains subscriber activity records regarding the IP addresses 12 assigned, the information sought in the subpoena will enable Plaintiff to serve Defendants and 13 proceed with this case.‖ (Dkt. No. 11, p. 2). Consequently, Plaintiff asks the Court to grant 14 expedited discovery to issue subpoenas to the relevant ISPs requiring disclosure of the name, 15 address, telephone number, and email address for each Defendant‘s IP address. (Dkt. No. 3, p. 16 3). 17 This is the third time Plaintiff has sought an order from the Court authorizing 18 expedited discovery prior to the Rule 26(f) conference. On October 18, 2011, the Court 19 denied the motion because Plaintiff had not established personal jurisdiction over the then 20 654 Doe Defendants or that venue was proper in this District. (Dkt. No. 12). In addition, the 21 Court expressed concerns regarding joinder under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a). 22 The motion was denied without prejudice to Plaintiff amending its complaint. Plaintiff 23 renewed the motion without amending the complaint to establish venue or personal 24 jurisdiction, and on November 17, 2011, the Court denied the second motion for the same 25 reasons as the first. (Dkt. No. 15). On December 16, 2011, Plaintiff amended the complaint 26 to name 44 Doe Defendants, and on January 10, 2012, filed the underlying third motion for 27 expedited discovery. (Dkt. Nos. 20 and 22). 28 2 1 DISCUSSION 2 A court may authorize discovery before the Rule 26(f) conference for the parties‘ 3 convenience and in the interests of justice. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(d)(1). Courts within the 4 Ninth Circuit apply a ―good cause‖ standard to requests for such early discovery. See, e.g., 5 OpenMind Solutions, Inc. v. Does 1-39, No. 11-3311, 2011 WL 4715200, at *2 (N.D. Cal. 6 Oct. 7, 2011). Where, as here, a plaintiff moves for expedited discovery to identify 7 anonymous internet users named as doe defendants, courts consider whether: 12 (1) the plaintiff can identify the missing party with sufficient specificity such that the Court can determine that defendant is a real person or entity who could be sued in federal court; (2) the plaintiff has identified all previous steps taken to locate the elusive defendant; (3) the plaintiff's suit against defendant could withstand a motion to dismiss; and (4) the plaintiff has demonstrated that there is a reasonable likelihood of being able to identify the defendant through discovery such that service of process would be possible. 13 OpenMind Solutions, Inc., 2011 WL 4715200, at *2 (citing Columbia Ins. Co. v. seescandy. 14 com, 185 F.R.D. 573, 578–80 (N.D. Cal. 1999)). Upon review of the Second Amended 15 Complaint and Plaintiff‘s motion, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not established that it can 16 satisfy any of these factors and thus has not established good cause for early discovery. 8 9 10 Northern District of California United States District Court 11 17 A. Identification of Defendants as Persons Who Can Be Sued 18 As an initial matter, Plaintiff has not identified the Defendants with sufficient 19 specificity. Plaintiff alleges that ―[e]ach Defendant is known to the Plaintiff only by the IP 20 address assigned to the Defendant by his or her Internet Service Provider on the date and at 21 the time at which the infringing activity of each Defendant was observed.‖ (Dkt. No. 22, 22 3:15-17 (emphasis added)). However, Plaintiff has not specified the date and time at which 23 the infringing activity occurred. The activity could have taken place over a period of days, 24 weeks, months or even years. Exhibit A, which contains the list of the Defendants, identifies 25 the IP address, the ―FileHash,‖ ISP, City and County, but it does not list the date or time. 26 (Dkt. No. 22, pp. 16-17). Without information regarding when the download was made there 27 is no way to identify the internet subscriber using the IP address. See Johnson v. Microsoft 28 Corp., No. 06-0900, 2009 WL 1794400, at *3 (W.D. Wash. Jun. 23, 2009) (―[s]ome Internet 3 1 service providers assign static IP addresses that remain constant with regard to that particular 2 user, but many assign dynamic IP addresses that change each time the user connects to the 3 Internet‖). 1 4 B. Previous Steps Taken to Identify the Doe Defendants 5 Given Plaintiff‘s failure to specify the date and time of the allegedly infringing 6 activity, the Court questions whether Plaintiff has taken any meaningful steps to identify the 7 Doe Defendants since this information is crucial to determining which subscriber was 8 associated with a particular IP address. C. Withstanding a Motion to Dismiss 9 To prevail on its copyright claim, Plaintiff must prove (1) that it owns a valid 10 Northern District of California United States District Court 11 copyright, and (2) that each defendant copied a work covered by the copyright. Online Policy 12 Group v. Diebold, Inc., 337 F.Supp.2d 1195, 1199 (N.D. Cal. Sep. 30, 2004). ―To be liable 13 for direct infringement, one must actively engage in and directly cause the copying.‖ Id. 14 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Although Plaintiff has submitted evidence 15 that it is the owner of the copyright to ―Sperma trilogie,‖ Plaintiffs failure to allege when each 16 Defendant intentionally copied its work precludes Plaintiff from establishing a prima facie 17 case of infringement. Accordingly, Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that the Complaint could 18 withstand a motion to dismiss. See Columbia Ins. Co., 185 F.R.D. at 579. Furthermore, as the Court noted in its October 18, 2011 Order, the Court has concerns 19 20 regarding the propriety of joinder in this case. (Dkt. No. 12, p. 6). Under Federal Rule of 21 Civil Procedure 20(a), proper joinder requires both that claims against all defendants stem 22 from the same transaction or occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences and also that 23 all defendants share in common any question of law or fact. When defendants are not 24 properly joined, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 permits the court ―at any time, on just 25 26 27 28 1 For example, Comcast, the ISP for fourteen of the Doe Defendants, states on its website that ―You should expect to get a new IP address each time you log in to XFINITY Internet 2go. IP addresses are assigned from a pool of dynamic public IP addresses; the assignment will be for one session only.‖ See 4 1 terms, to add or drop a party‖ if ―no substantial right will be prejudiced by the severance.‖ 2 Coughlin v. Rogers, 130 F.3d 1348, 1351 (9th Cir. 1997). 3 Several courts have held that ―the mere allegation that defendants have used the same 4 peer-to-peer network to infringe a copyrighted work is insufficient to meet the standards for 5 joinder set forth in Rule 20.‖ Diabolic Video Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-2099, No. 10-5865, 6 2011 WL 3100404, at *3 (N.D. Cal. May 31, 2011) (listing cases). This is particularly true 7 where Plaintiff‘s allegations span significant periods of time. See, e.g., Third Degree Films v. 8 Does 1-3577, No. 11-2768, 2011 WL 5374569, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 4, 2011) (finding 9 joinder improper where the 3,577 Doe defendants downloaded the protected work at various Northern District of California dates and times ranging from November 11, 2010 to June 1, 2011); On The Cheap, LLC v. 11 United States District Court 10 Does 1-5011, No. 10-4472, 2011 WL 4018258 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 6, 2011) (finding that the 12 seven-week gap of time between the alleged infringing acts of the first user and last user 13 failed to support an inference that the users were cooperating with each other). Indeed, the 14 Court cannot see how joinder is proper where, as here, ―Plaintiff [did] not plead facts showing 15 that any particular defendant illegally shared plaintiff‘s work with any other particular 16 defendant.‖ Boy Racer, Inc. v. Does 1–60, No. 11–01738, 2011 WL 3652521, at *4 (N.D. 17 Cal. Aug. 19, 2011). 18 19 Based on Plaintiff‘s failure to specify the date and time of the alleged infringement by each Doe Defendant, the Court in its discretion denies the motion for expedited discovery. CONCLUSION 20 21 Accordingly, the renewed motion for expedited discovery (Dkt. No. 22) is DENIED 22 without prejudice to renewal accompanied by information regarding when the allegedly 23 infringing activity occurred for each Doe Defendant. 24 25 26 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: January 24, 2012 27 _________________________________ JACQUELINE SCOTT CORLEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 28 5

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