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Pacific Century International, Ltd v. John Does 1-37

May 21, 2012

PACIFIC CENTURY INTERNATIONAL, LTD., PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN DOES 1-37, DEFENDANTS.
PACIFIC CENTURY INTERNATIONAL, LTD., PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN DOE, DEFENDANT.
FIRST TIME VIDEOS LLC, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN DOE, DEFENDANT.
FIRST TIME VIDEOS LLC, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN DOE, DEFENDANT.
HARD DRIVE PRODUCTIONS, INC, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN DOE, DEFENDANT.
PACIFIC CENTURY INTERNATIONAL, LTD., PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN DOE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman, Chief Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

These six cases were consolidated for the purpose of this court ruling on a motion to compel information about anonymous internet users identified only by their IP addresses that the plaintiffs subpoenaed from two internet service providers, Comcast Cable Communications, LLC ("Comcast") and Cequel III Communications II, LLC, d/b/a Cebridge Communications and Suddenlink Communications ("Suddenlink") (collectively "the ISPs"). (Dkt. No. 9.) On March 30, 2012, the court granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs' motion to compel. (Dkt. No. 22.)

Pending before the court is the plaintiffs' motion to alter or amend the judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). (Dkt. No. 25.) For the reasons explained below, that motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs in each of the six cases are producers of pornographic videos.*fn1 In each case, the plaintiffs allege that the John Doe defendants illegally reproduced and distributed a pornographic video in violation of the plaintiffs' copyright.*fn2 The defendants accessed the videos in each case from their computers through the use of a BitTorrent file sharing protocol. One other district court has previously explained that a BitTorrent file sharing protocol is a decentralized method of distributing data on peer-to-peer ("P2P") file sharing networks:

Since its release approximately 10 years ago, BitTorrent has allowed users to share files anonymously with other users. Instead of relying on a central server to distribute data directly to individual users, the BitTorrent protocol allows individual users to distribute data amo[ng] themselves by exchanging pieces of the file with each other to eventually obtain a whole copy of the file. When using the BitTorrent protocol, every user simultaneously receives information from and transfers information to one another. In the BitTorrent vernacular, individual downloaders/distributors of a particular file are called "peers." The group of peers involved in downloading/distributing a particular file is called a "swarm." A server which stores a list of peers in a swarm is called a "tracker." A computer program that implements the BitTorrent protocol is called a BitTorrent "client."

The BitTorrent protocol operates as follows. First, a user locates a small "torrent" file. This file contains information about the files to be shared and about the tracker, the computer that coordinates the file distribution. Second, the user loads the torrent file into a BitTorrent client, which automatically attempts to connect to the tracker listed in the torrent file. Third, the tracker responds with a list of peers and the BitTorrent client connects to those peers to begin downloading data from and distributing data to the other peers in the swarm. When the download is complete, the BitTorrent client continues distributing data to the peers in the swarm until the user manually disconnects [from] the swarm or the BitTorrent client otherwise does the same.*fn3 Because the BitTorrent system allows each individual user to share information anonymously, the plaintiffs filed their suits without knowing the identity of the defendants. Instead, the plaintiffs identified only a series of Internet Protocol ("IP") addresses assigned to computers that accessed the copyrighted material, along with the date and time of each computer user's alleged unlawful activity. In each case, the plaintiffs filed a motion for early discovery seeking leave to subpoena the ISPs to obtain the identifying information for each IP address. The respective courts in each case granted plaintiffs leave to subpoena the ISPs, (Dkt. No. 12, Ex. B), and the plaintiffs issued Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45 subpoenas to each ISP calling for production at the office of the plaintiffs' law firm in Chicago. (Dkt. No. 12, Ex. A.) Accordingly, the subpoenas were issued from this court, and the plaintiffs moved to compel production from the ISPs.

The court granted the motion to compel with respect to Case 12 C 1057. The court denied the motion to compel and quashed the subpoenas in the other five cases because those subpoenas sought information about IP addresses connected to individuals who were not parties in the underlying cases. (Dkt. No. 23, at 11.) The court held that producing any information about non-parties placed an undue burden on the ISPs, because information about non-parties was irrelevant to the plaintiffs' civil conspiracy and copyright claims. (Id.at 8-11.) Consequently, it was "plain that the plaintiffs are not seeking information about the non-party IP addresses for the purpose of litigating their current claims." (Id. at 10.)

LEGAL STANDARD

"[A] Rule 59(e) motion will be granted only in the case of a manifest error of law or fact, or newly discovered evidence." Abcarian v. McDonald, 617 F.3d 931, 943 (7th Cir. 2010). A manifest error of law is demonstrated by a court's "wholesale disregard, misapplication, or failure to recognize controlling precedent." Oto v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 224 F.3d 601, 606 (7th Cir. 2000).

ANALYSIS

The plaintiffs ask the court to alter or amend the judgment in three respects. The court will address each in turn.

I. Discovery of Identity of Doe Defendants First, the plaintiffs point out that in two of the underlying cases, the defendant John Doe is a subscriber of Comcast with an IP address among those subpoenaed by the plaintiffs. They therefore ask that the judgment be altered to order the ISPs to turn over information about those two IP addresses.

The plaintiffs are correct that the identities connected with the IP addresses of two defendants were subpoenaed from Comcast. See Amended Complaint [Dkt. No. 6, Ex. A], Pac. Century Int'l, Ltd v. Unknown, No. 11 C 3479 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 5, 2012) (IP address 76.114.33.61); Amended Complaint [Dkt. No. 6, Ex. A], Hard Drive Prods., Inc. v. Unknown, No. 11 C 3476 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 5, 2012) (IP address 67.172.174.86). They are also correct that information connected to those two addresses is discoverable under the rules articulated in the court's order of March 30. (Dkt. No. 23.) Nonetheless, the court correctly quashed the subpoenas seeking information about those two addresses because those subpoenas also requested information about non-party IP addresses. (Id. at ...


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