Strike 3 Holdings, LLC v. John Doe subscriber assigned IP address

Filing 12

ORDER. In the attached order, the court grants #11 the defendant's ex parte application for leave to serve a third-party subpoena.(lblc2S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 10/13/2020)

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Case 3:20-cv-05912-LB Document 12 Filed 10/13/20 Page 1 of 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 San Francisco Division United States District Court Northern District of California 11 STRIKE 3 HOLDINGS, LLC, Case No. 20-cv-05912-LB Plaintiff, 12 v. 13 14 JOHN DOE SUBSCRIBER ASSIGNED IP ADDRESS, 15 ORDER GRANTING EX PARTE APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO SERVE THIRD-PARTY SUBPOENA Re: ECF No. 11 Defendant. 16 17 INTRODUCTION 18 The plaintiff Strike 3 Holdings owns the copyrights for several adult motion pictures.1 It 19 alleges that someone — the Doe defendant here — who uses the IP address 20 infringed on those copyrights.2 Despite its own efforts, Strike 3 Holdings has not been able to 21 identify the individual associated with that IP address.3 Strike 3 Holdings now asks the court to let 22 it serve a subpoena on non-party Comcast Cable Communications, LLC the Doe defendant’s 23 24 25 Appl. – ECF No. 11 at 9. Citations refer to material in the Electronic Case File (“ECF”); pinpoint citations are to the ECF-generated page numbers at the top of documents. 26 1 27 2 Id. at 13–14. 28 3 Id. at 18‒19. ORDER – No. 20-cv-05912-LB Case 3:20-cv-05912-LB Document 12 Filed 10/13/20 Page 2 of 8 1 internet service provider, to learn the Doe defendant’s identity.4 Because Strike 3 Holdings has 2 demonstrated that good cause exists to allow it to serve a subpoena, the court grants the motion. 3 4 STATEMENT 5 Strike 3 Holdings is the owner of several adult motion pictures distributed through its adult 6 brands Blacked, Tushy, Vixen, and Blacked Raw.5 The motion pictures are registered with the 7 United States Copyright Office.6 The Doe defendant, who uses the Comcast Cable Communications, LLC-provided IP address 8 9, used the file distribution network known as “BitTorrent” to illegally download and distribute Strike 3 Holdings’s copyrighted movies.7 Through geolocation technology, Strike 3 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 has traced each download made to the Doe defendant’s IP address to a physical address in the 12 Northern District of California.8 Using a proprietary infringement detection system called “VXN 13 Scan,” Strike 3 Holdings established direct “TCP/IP” connections with the defendant’s IP address 14 while the defendant was using BitTorrent.9 VXN Scan downloaded media files containing a digital 15 copy of Strike 3’s copyrighted movies from the defendant.10 The “Info Hash” — the data that 16 BitTorrent protocol uses to identify media files across the BitTorrent network — confirmed that 17 the files that VXN Scan downloaded were downloaded from the defendant.11 The defendant “has 18 been recorded infringing 44 movies over an extended period of time.”12 Strike 3 Holdings did not 19 give the defendant authorization to distribute its copyrighted movies.13 Strike 3 Holdings alleges 20 21 4 See generally id. 22 5 Compl. – ECF No. 1 at 2 (¶¶ 2–3). 6 Id. at 6 ¶ 47). 7 Id. at 4 (¶ 19). 24 8 Id. at 2 (¶ 9). 25 9 Id. at 5 (¶¶ 29–31). 23 10 Id. (¶¶ 32–33). 11 Id. at 6 (¶ 37). 27 12 Id. at 2 (¶ 4). 28 13 Id. at 6 (¶ 45). 26 ORDER – No. 20-cv-05912-LB 2 Case 3:20-cv-05912-LB Document 12 Filed 10/13/20 Page 3 of 8 1 that Comcast Cable Communications, LLC can identify the defendant through his or her IP 2 address.14 3 On August 21, 2020, Strike 3 Holdings filed a complaint against the Doe defendant alleging 4 one claim for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act.15 On October 10, 2020, Strike 3 5 Holdings filed an ex parte application asking the court to allow it to serve Comcast Cable 6 Communications, LLC with a subpoena under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45.16 Strike 3 7 Holdings says that the subpoena will be limited to the name and address of the individual/ 8 individuals associated with the Doe defendant’s IP address.17 9 GOVERNING LAW 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 A court may authorize early discovery before the Rule 26(f) conference for the parties’ and 12 witnesses’ convenience and in the interests of justice. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(d). Courts within the 13 Ninth Circuit generally consider whether a plaintiff has shown “good cause” for early discovery. 14 See, e.g., IO Grp., Inc. v. Does 1–65, No. 10-4377 SC, 2010 WL 4055667, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 15 15, 2010); Semitool, Inc. v. Tokyo Electron Am., Inc., 208 F.R.D. 273, 275–77 (N.D. Cal. 2002); 16 Tex. Guaranteed Student Loan Corp. v. Dhindsa, No. 1:10-cv-00335-LJO-SKO, 2010 WL 17 2353520, at *2 (E.D. Cal. June 9, 2010); Yokohama Tire Corp. v. Dealers Tire Supply, Inc., 202 18 F.R.D. 612, 613–14 (D. Ariz. 2001) (collecting cases and standards). “Good cause may be found 19 where the need for expedited discovery, in consideration of the administration of justice, 20 outweighs the prejudice to the responding party.” Semitool, 208 F.R.D. at 276. In evaluating whether a plaintiff establishes good cause to learn the identity of a Doe 21 22 defendant through early discovery, courts examine whether the plaintiff: (1) identifies the Doe 23 defendant with sufficient specificity that the court can determine that the defendant is a real person 24 who can be sued in federal court, (2) recounts the steps taken to locate and identify the defendant, 25 14 Id. at 2 (¶ 5). 15 Id. at 7‒8 (¶¶ 49–54). 27 16 Appl. – ECF No. 11 at 10. 28 17 Id. 26 ORDER – No. 20-cv-05912-LB 3 Case 3:20-cv-05912-LB Document 12 Filed 10/13/20 Page 4 of 8 1 (3) demonstrates that the action can withstand a motion to dismiss, and (4) shows that the 2 discovery is reasonably likely to lead to identifying information that will permit service of process. 3 Columbia Ins. Co. v., 185 F.R.D. 573, 578–80 (N.D. Cal. 1999) (citations omitted). 4 “‘[W]here the identity of alleged defendants [is not] known prior to the filing of a complaint[,] the 5 plaintiff should be given an opportunity through discovery to identify the unknown defendants, 6 unless it is clear that discovery would not uncover the identities, or that the complaint would be 7 dismissed on other grounds.’” Wakefield v. Thompson, 177 F.3d 1160, 1163 (9th Cir. 1999) 8 (quoting Gillespie v. Civiletti, 629 F.2d 637, 642 (9th Cir. 1980)). 9 ANALYSIS 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 1. Strike 3 Holdings Establishes Good Cause for Early Discovery 12 Strike 3 Holdings has made a sufficient showing under each of the four seescandy factors 13 listed above to establish good cause to permit it to engage in early discovery to identify the Doe 14 defendant. 15 First, Strike 3 Holdings has identified the Doe defendant with sufficient specificity that the 16 court can determine that he or she is a real person who can be sued in federal court. It alleges that 17 the Doe defendant downloaded Strike 3 Holdings’s copyrighted adult motion pictures and 18 distributed them over the BitTorrent network.18 To download the movie, the Doe defendant had to 19 direct his or her BitTorrent client to download the media file.19 These facts indicate that the Doe 20 defendant is an identifiable adult who likely is the primary subscriber of the IP address or 21 someone who resides with and is known to the subscriber. Strike 3 Holdings also has traced each 22 download made to the Doe defendant’s IP address to the Northern District of California, thus 23 giving the court jurisdiction over the defendant and Strike 3’s federal claim.20 24 25 26 18 Compl. – ECF No. 1 at 6 (¶¶ 45, 47). 27 19 Appl. – ECF No. 11 at 16. 28 20 Compl. – ECF No. 1 at 2 (¶¶ 8–11). ORDER – No. 20-cv-05912-LB 4 Case 3:20-cv-05912-LB Document 12 Filed 10/13/20 Page 5 of 8 Second, Strike 3 Holdings has recounted the steps taken to locate and identify the Doe 1 2 defendant. The Doe defendant downloaded and distributed Strike 3 Holdings’s movies through his 3 or her IP address, and his or her IP address was traced to this district.21 The IP address is not 4 sufficient for Strike 3 to identify the Doe defendant. Third, Strike 3 Holdings has demonstrated that its copyright claim could withstand a motion to 5 dismiss. A plaintiff “must satisfy two requirements to present a prima facie case of direct 7 infringement: (1) [he or she] must show ownership of the allegedly infringed material and (2) [he 8 or she] must demonstrate that the alleged infringers violate at least one exclusive right granted to 9 copyright holders under 17 U.S.C. § 106.” Perfect 10, Inc. v., Inc., 508 F.3d 1146, 10 1159 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 239 F.3d 1004, 1013 (9th Cir. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 6 2001)); see 17 U.S.C. § 501(a). Under Section 106, a copyright holder has the exclusive rights to 12 reproduce, distribute, publicly display, perform, and create derivative works of the copyrighted 13 work. Direct copyright infringement does not require intent or any particular state of mind. Fox 14 Broad. Co, Inc. v. Dish Network, LLC, 905 F. Supp. 2d 1088, 1098–99 (C.D. Cal. 2012); Religious 15 Tech. Ctr. v. Netcom On-Line Commc’n Servs., Inc., 907 F. Supp. 1361, 1367 (N.D. Cal. 1995). 16 Strike 3 Holdings alleges that it holds the copyrights for the adult motion pictures that the Doe 17 defendant downloaded (and thus copied) and distributed the movies without its permission.22 18 Strike 3 Holdings has sufficiently alleged a prima facie claim for copyright infringement. Fourth, Strike 3 Holdings has shown that the discovery it seeks is reasonably likely to lead to 19 20 identifying information that will permit service of process on the Doe defendant. Strike 3 Holdings 21 alleges that the Doe Defendant’s ISP, Comcast Cable can identify the Doe defendant through his 22 or her IP address.23 23 24 25 26 21 Id. 27 22 Id. at 6 (¶¶ 45–47). 28 23 Id. at 2 (¶ 5). ORDER – No. 20-cv-05912-LB 5 Case 3:20-cv-05912-LB Document 12 Filed 10/13/20 Page 6 of 8 1 2 2. Protective Order “[U]nder Rule 26(c), the Court may sua sponte grant a protective order for good cause 3 shown.” McCoy v. Sw. Airlines Co., Inc., 211 F.R.D. 381, 385 (C.D. Cal. 2002). The court issues 4 the limited protective order described below because the ISP subscriber may be an innocent third 5 party and the subject matter of the suit deals with sensitive and personal matters. 6 Here, as has been discussed by other courts in this district, the ISP subscribers may not be the 7 individuals who infringed upon Strike 3 Holdings’s copyright. See, e.g., Pac. Century Int’l Ltd. v. 8 Does 1–101, No. C-11-02533 (DMR), 2011 WL 5117424, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 27, 2011); see 9 also IO Grp., Inc. v. Does 1–19, No. C 10-03851 SI, 2011 WL 772909, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 1, 2011) (granting the plaintiff additional time to identify and serve the true defendant where a 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 subscriber asserted that he did not infringe plaintiff’s work, suggesting that someone else used his 12 IP address to infringe the plaintiff’s work, and the plaintiff claimed that it needed to take third- 13 party discovery from the subscriber to try to identify who actually used the subscriber’s IP address 14 to allegedly infringe the plaintiff’s work). 15 Additionally, requests for pseudonymity have been granted when anonymity is necessary to 16 preserve privacy in a matter of a sensitive and highly personal nature. See Does I Thru XXIII v. 17 Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1068 (9th Cir. 2000). An allegation that an individual 18 illegally downloaded adult motion pictures likely goes to matters of a sensitive and highly 19 personal nature, including one’s sexuality. 20 Accordingly, the court issues a protective order to the limited extent that any information 21 regarding the Doe defendant released to Strike 3 Holdings by the ISP will be treated as 22 confidential for a limited duration. See IO Grp., Inc. v. Does 1–19, No. C 10-03851 SI, 2010 WL 23 5071605, at *2 (N.D. Cal. 2010). Specifically, Strike 3 Holdings must not publicly disclose that 24 information until the Doe defendant has the opportunity to file a motion with this court to be 25 allowed to proceed in this litigation anonymously and that motion is ruled on by the court. Id. If 26 the Doe defendant fails to file a motion for leave to proceed anonymously within 30 days after his 27 or her information is disclosed to Strike 3 Holdings’s counsel, this limited protective order will 28 expire. Id. Given the potential embarrassment associated with being publicly accused of having ORDER – No. 20-cv-05912-LB 6 Case 3:20-cv-05912-LB Document 12 Filed 10/13/20 Page 7 of 8 1 illegally downloaded adult motion pictures, if the Doe defendant includes identifying information 2 within his or her request to proceed anonymously, the court finds good cause to order the papers 3 filed under seal until the court has the opportunity to rule on the request. See id. at *3 (permitting 4 party to file under seal a declaration with identifying information). If the Doe defendant includes 5 identifying information with his or her request to proceed anonymously and the request is placed 6 under seal, the court will direct the Doe defendant to submit a copy of the under-seal request to 7 Strike 3 Holdings and will ensure that Strike 3 Holdings has time to respond. 8 CONCLUSION 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 The court GRANTS Strike 3 Holdings’s Ex Parte Motion for Expedited Discovery with respect to JOHN DOE subscriber assigned IP address as follows. 12 1. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Strike 3 Holding may immediately serve a Rule 45 13 subpoena on Comcast Cable Communications, LLC to obtain the Doe defendant’s true name and 14 addresses. The subpoena must have a copy of this order attached. 15 2. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the ISP will have 30 days from the date of service 16 upon them to serve the Doe defendant with a copy of the subpoena and a copy of this order. The 17 ISP may serve the Doe defendant using any reasonable means, including written notice sent to his 18 or her last known address, transmitted either by first-class mail or via overnight service. 19 3. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Doe defendant will have 30 days from the date of 20 service upon him or her to file any motions contesting the subpoena (including a motion to quash 21 or modify the subpoena) with the court that issued the subpoena. If that 30-day period lapses 22 without the Doe defendant contesting the subpoena, the ISP will have 10 days to produce the 23 information responsive to the subpoena to Strike 3 Holdings. 24 25 26 4. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the subpoenaed entity must preserve any subpoenaed information pending the resolution of any timely-filed motion to quash. 5. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the ISP that receives a subpoena pursuant to this order 27 must confer with Strike 3 Holdings and may not assess any charge in advance of providing the 28 information requested in the subpoena. The ISP that receives a subpoena and elects to charge for ORDER – No. 20-cv-05912-LB 7 Case 3:20-cv-05912-LB Document 12 Filed 10/13/20 Page 8 of 8 1 the costs of production must provide a billing summary and cost reports that serve as a basis for 2 such billing summary and any costs claimed by the ISP. 3 4 6. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Strike 3 Holdings must serve a copy of this order along with any subpoenas issued pursuant to this order to the necessary entities. 5 7. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that any information disclosed to Strike 3 Holdings in 6 response to a Rule 45 subpoena may be used by Strike 3 Holdings solely for the purpose of 7 protecting Strike 3 Holdings’s rights as set forth in its complaint. 8 9 IT IS SO ORDERED. 10 Dated: October 13, 2020 ______________________________________ LAUREL BEELER United States Magistrate Judge United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 ORDER – No. 20-cv-05912-LB 8

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