MALIBU MEDIA, LLC v. DOE
MEMORANDUM OPINION in support of 5 Order granting 4 Motion for Leave to Serve a Third Party Subpoena Prior to a Rule 26(f) Conference. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 4/10/2018. (lctjk1)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
MALIBU MEDIA, LLC,
Civil Action No. 18-600 (TJK)
JOHN DOE subscriber assigned IP address
Before the Court is Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Serve a Third Party Subpoena Prior to
a Rule 26(f) Conference. ECF No. 4. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is GRANTED.
Plaintiff Malibu Media, LLC owns the rights to certain adult entertainment films. ECF
No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶ 3. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant, currently identified as John Doe
subscriber assigned IP address 188.8.131.52, has been downloading and distributing these
films using a BitTorrent protocol in violation of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq.
Compl. ¶¶ 30-33. Plaintiff further alleges that it used geolocation technology to trace the IP
address used by Defendant to a physical address in the District of Columbia. Id. ¶ 5. Plaintiff
has moved for leave to serve a third-party subpoena on Defendant’s internet service provider
(“ISP”) to learn Defendant’s “true name and address,” which would, among other things, allow
Plaintiff to serve process on Defendant. ECF No. 4-1 (“Pl.’s Mem.”) at 8. Plaintiff asserts that it
will only use Defendant’s name and address to prosecute the claims in its Complaint. Id. at 3-4.
A party ordinarily “may not seek discovery from any source” prior to a conference under
Rule 26(f) unless “authorized . . . by court order.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(d)(1). “To determine
whether to authorize discovery prior to a Rule 26(f) conference in a particular case, this district
has applied a ‘good cause’ standard.” Malibu Media, LLC v. Doe, 64 F. Supp. 3d 47, 49 (D.D.C.
2014) (quoting Warner Bros. Records v. Does 1-6, 527 F. Supp. 2d 1, 2 (D.D.C. 2007)). “Good
cause to take discovery prior to the Rule 26(f) conference exists where the discovery is necessary
‘before th[e] suit can progress further.’” Malibu Media, LLC v. Doe, No. 15-cv-986 (RDM),
2015 WL 5173890, at *1 (D.D.C. Sept. 2, 2015) (alteration in original) (quoting Arista Records
LLC v. Does 1-19, 551 F. Supp. 2d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2008)).
A plaintiff also “must ‘have at least a good faith belief that such discovery will enable it
to show that the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant[s].’” AF Holdings, LLC v.
Does 1-1058, 752 F.3d 990, 995 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (alteration in original) (quoting Caribbean
Broad. Sys., Ltd. v. Cable & Wireless PLC, 148 F.3d 1080, 1090 (D.C. Cir. 1998)). “The
Copyright Act does not provide for the exercise of personal jurisdiction over alleged infringers
on any basis.” Malibu Media, LLC v. Doe, 177 F. Supp. 3d 554, 556-57 (D.D.C. 2016) (citing
Exquisite Multimedia, Inc. v. Does 1-336, No. 11-cv-1976 (RWR/JMF), 2012 WL 177885, at *2
(D.D.C. Jan. 19, 2012)). A plaintiff “must predicate this Court’s jurisdiction over the infringers
on the reach of District of Columbia law.” Id. Under the District of Columbia’s long-arm
statute, “the only conceivable way that personal jurisdiction might properly be exercised” is if
the defendant is a “resident of the District of Columbia or at least downloaded the copyrighted
work in the District.” AF Holdings, 752 F.3d at 996 (citing D.C. Code § 13-423(a)(3), (4)).
Plaintiff has satisfied the good cause standard to serve discovery prior to a Rule 26(f)
conference. As an initial matter, “this suit cannot move forward without Plaintiff first being able
to identify Defendant so that service can be effected.” Malibu Media, LLC v. Doe, No. 16-cv639 (RC/AK), 2016 WL 1698263, at *2 (D.D.C. Apr. 27, 2016). According to a declaration
provided by Plaintiff, Defendant’s ISP is the only entity that can identify Defendant by
correlating the IP address linked to the alleged infringement with its subscriber. ECF No. 4-3
¶¶ 13-15, 27.
Plaintiff has also established a good faith belief that this Court has personal jurisdiction
over Defendant. Plaintiff used geolocation technology to trace Defendant’s IP address to a
physical location within the District of Columbia. Pl.’s Mem. at 6. The D.C. Circuit “has
suggested that reliance on ‘geolocation services’ of this sort is sufficient to justify a ‘good faith
belief’ that a district court has personal jurisdiction over unknown defendants.” Malibu Media,
2015 WL 5173890, at *2 (quoting A.F. Holdings, 752 F.3d at 996); see also Malibu Media, 2016
WL 1698263, at *2 (“Using a geolocation service that estimates that location of Internet users
based on their IP addresses is sufficient to demonstrate a good faith belief that the court has
personal jurisdiction over the defendant.”); Nu Image, Inc. v. Does 1-23,322, 799 F. Supp. 2d 34,
41 (D.D.C. 2011) (“Plaintiff has a good faith basis to believe a putative defendant may be a
District of Columbia resident if a geolocation service places his/her IP address within the District
of Columbia . . . .”). Thus, in its “broad discretion to . . . dictate the sequence of discovery,”
Watts v. SEC, 482 F.3d 501, 507 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (quoting Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574,
598 (1998)), the Court authorizes Plaintiff to serve limited discovery on Defendant’s ISP.
In similar cases involving adult content, some courts have found it appropriate to issue a
protective order establishing procedural safeguards. See, e.g., Strike 3 Holdings, LLC v. Doe,
No. 17-cv-2347 (TJK), 2018 WL 385418, at *2-3 (D.D.C. Jan. 11, 2018); Malibu Media, LLC v.
Doe, No. 15-cv-3504 (JFB/SIL), 2016 WL 4444799, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 23, 2016). The Court
finds that a protective order is warranted here. “The fact that a copyrighted work was illegally
downloaded from a certain IP address does not necessarily mean that the owner of that IP
address was the infringer.” Media Prods., Inc. v. Does 1-26, No. 12-cv-3719 (HB), 2012 WL
2190613, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. June 12, 2012). “Indeed, the true infringer could just as easily be a
third party who had access to the internet connection, such as a son or daughter, houseguest,
neighbor, or customer of a business offering an internet connection,” and “[t]here is a real risk
that defendants might be falsely identified and forced to defend themselves against unwarranted
allegations.” Id. There is also a risk that “the innocent defendant may be coerced into an unjust
settlement with the plaintiff to prevent the dissemination of publicity surrounding unfounded
allegations.” Id. In sum, absent a protective order, “there is no reason to conclude that adequate
protections exist to safeguard the individuals or entities subscribing to the implicated IP
address against the danger of ‘annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or
expense.’” In re Malibu Media Adult Film Copyright Infringement Cases, Nos. 15-cv-1855
(SJF) (SIL) et al., 2015 WL 3605834, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. June 8, 2015) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P.
In light of these considerations, Plaintiff shall be allowed to serve early discovery by
serving a Rule 45 subpoena on the identified ISP that seeks information sufficient to identify
John Doe subscriber assigned IP address 184.108.40.206. However, if and when the ISP is
served with a subpoena, Plaintiff shall provide the ISP with a copy of this Memorandum Opinion
and the accompanying Order with its subpoena. The ISP shall give written notice, which may
include e-mail notice, and shall include a copy of the subpoena, this Memorandum Opinion, and
the accompanying Order, to the subscriber in question at least twenty (20) business days prior to
releasing the subscriber’s identifying information to Plaintiff. Any motion to quash the subpoena
shall be filed before the return date of the subpoena, which shall be no earlier than forty-five (45)
calendar days from the date of service. The ISP shall preserve any subpoenaed information
pending the resolution of any timely-filed motion to quash. Any information disclosed to
Plaintiff in response to a Rule 45 subpoena may be used by Plaintiff solely for the purpose of
protecting Plaintiff’s rights as set forth in the Complaint. See ECF No.1. On or before May 16,
2018, Plaintiff shall file a Status Report with the Court briefly outlining the progress of the
discovery authorized by the accompanying Order.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to
Serve a Third Party Subpoena Prior to a Rule 26(f) Conference, ECF No. 4. A separate order
will be issued accompanying this opinion.
/s/ Timothy J. Kelly
TIMOTHY J. KELLY
United States District Judge
Date: April 10, 2018
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