VPR Internationale v Does 1-1017

Filing 15

ORDER denying 14 Plaintiff's Motion to Certify the Court's 3/9/11 Order for Interlocutory Review entered by Judge Harold A. Baker on 4/29/11. See written Order. (KM, ilcd)

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E-FILED Friday, 29 April, 2011 09:02:53 AM Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS VPR INTERNATIONALE, Plaintiff, v. DOES 1 - 1017, individually and as representatives of a class, Defendants. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) 11-2068 ORDER The plaintiff, VPR Internationale, is a Montreal, Quebec-based producer of adult entertainment content. VPR has filed this complaint against 1,017 Doe defendants identified only by Internet Protocol (“IP”) address. VPR alleges that these defendants have distributed adult videos in violation of VPR’s copyrights. To determine the identity of the 1,017 alleged copyright infringers, VPR filed an ex parte motion for expedited discovery so that it could immediately serve subpoenas on Internet service providers (“ISPs”) to determine the subscriber and location associated with each IP address. The court denied the motion for expedited discovery [9]. VPR filed an ex parte motion for reconsideration, which was denied on March 22, 2011, by text order. VPR has now filed a motion to certify for interlocutory review the court’s denial of its motion for expedited discovery. VPR seeks certification for one controlling question of law: Defendants’ identifies are unknown to the Plaintiff. Instead, each Defendant is associated with an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) know identity and contact information associated with each IP address. Is the Plaintiff to entitled to discover this information by serving ISPs with subpoenas duces tecum under Fed. R. Civ. P. 45? Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(d)(1) prohibits a party from “seek[ing] discovery from any source before the parties have conferred as required by Rule 26(f), except in a proceeding exempted from initial disclosure under Rule 26(a)(1)(B), or when authorized by these rules, by stipulation, or by court order.” In this case, VPR may seek expedited discovery only by court order. Arguing in favor of certification, VPR directs the court’s attention to its motion for reconsideration. In its memorandum, VPR concedes that the relief sought falls outside traditional adversarial procedure, and states that there is no legal basis to name the ISP providers as defendants. VPR compares the Doe defendants’ IP addresses to “records of who rented which car at a busy car rental agency, in that IP addresses are like cars “leased by subscribers. If a 1 plaintiff was injured by a rental car, the plaintiff can discover the information on who leased the car from the agency by specifying the license plate of the offending vehicle and the date and time when the injury occurred. Without access to the agency’s records, all the plaintiff has is the identity of the rental agency, but not who was driving the rental car.” The comparison is not apt. The rental agency owns the car and is a potential defendant, so the adversarial process would yield the driver’s information. And such information is not necessarily confidential; accident reports and police records may also identify the driver. In this case, not a single one of the plaintiff’s 1,017 potential adversaries has been identified. There is no adversarial process yet. Moreover, VPR ignores the fact that IP subscribers are not necessarily copyright infringers. Carolyn Thompson writes in an MSNBC article of a raid by federal agents on a home that was linked to downloaded child pornography. The identity and location of the subscriber were provided by the ISP. The desktop computer, iPhones, and iPads of the homeowner and his wife were seized in the raid. Federal agents returned the equipment after determining that no one at the home had downloaded the illegal material. Agents eventually traced the downloads to a neighbor who had used multiple IP subscribers’ Wi-Fi connections (including a secure connection from the State University of New York). See Carolyn Thompson, Bizarre Pornography Raid Underscores Wi-Fi Privacy Risks (April 25, 2011), http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42740201/ns/technology_and_science-wireless/ The list of IP addresses attached to VPR’s complaint suggests, in at least some instances, a similar disconnect between IP subscriber and copyright infringer. The ISPs include a number of universities, such as Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, and the University of Minnesota, as well as corporations and utility companies. Where an IP address might actually identify an individual subscriber and address the correlation is still far from perfect, as illustrated in the MSNBC article. The infringer might be the subscriber, someone in the subscriber’s household, a visitor with her laptop, a neighbor, or someone parked on the street at any given moment. VPR argues that, if served with a subpoena, the ISPs are required by law to notify each targeted subscriber and the Does may then move the court to quash the subpoenas. The potential filing of a motion to quash is no reason to abandon the adversarial process. As VPR points out, ex parte motions for expedited discovery have been granted in similar cases in other districts; among the thousands of Does in those cases, relatively few motions to quash have been filed. In at least one case, counsel1 has sought leave to amend the complaint to add more Doe defendants. See Lightspeed Media Corp. v. Does 1 - 100, Case No. 1:10-cv-05604, d/e 16 (N.D. Ill.) (seeking leave to add Does 101 - 1000 as defendants). In Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1 - 1000, counsel sought leave to dismiss more than 100 Doe defendants, stating that some of the Does had “reached a mutually satisfactory resolution of their differences” with the plaintiff. Hard Drive, 1 VPR is represented by John Steele, Esq. Steele represents other adult entertainment producers in cases now (or recently) pending in the Northern and Southern Districts of Illinois. 2 Case No. 1:10-cv-05606, d/e 33 (N.D. Ill.).2 Orin Kerr, a professor at George Washington University Law School, noted that whether you’re guilty or not, “you look like a suspect.”3 Could expedited discovery be used to wrest quick settlements, even from people who have done nothing wrong? The embarrassment of public exposure might be too great, the legal system too daunting and expensive, for some to ask whether VPR has competent evidence to prove its case. In its order denying the motion for expedited discovery, the court noted that until at least one person is served, the court lacks personal jurisdiction over anyone. The court has no jurisdiction over any of the Does at this time; the imprimatur of this court will not be used to advance a “fishing expedition by means of a perversion of the purpose and intent” of class actions. Order, d/e 9. The motion to certify for interlocutory review [14] is denied. Entered this 29th day of April, 2011. \s\Harold. A. Baker _______________________________ HAROLD A. BAKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 2 In Lightspeed, only one defendant has been named and his case severed; the ISP subpoenas have been quashed, the other Does are dismissed, and Steele has been ordered to notify the Does that they are no longer potential defendants in the case. See Case No. 1:10-cv05604, d/e 57 (N.D. Ill.). 3 MSNBC article, p. 2. 3

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