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Malibu Media, LLC v. Does

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

September 27, 2013

MALIBU MEDIA, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN DOES 1-68, Defendants. MALIBU MEDIA, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN DOES 1-42, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN Z. LEE, District Judge.

These two cases pending before the Court are part of a swarm of internet copyright infringement cases filed in this district and in districts throughout the country. In a typical case, the plaintiff is usually the owner of a copyright in a television show or movie and claims that the defendants have downloaded the show or movie from the internet without authorization using a computer protocol known as "BitTorrent." Because the plaintiff only knows the internet protocol ("IP") addresses of the alleged infringers at the time that the case is filed, the plaintiff lists the defendants as "John Does" and seeks leave to obtain pre-answer discovery from the defendants' various internet service providers ("ISPs") to determine the defendants' individual identities. Once the identities become known to the plaintiff, the John Does are served with process. The defendants then either settle with the plaintiffs, default, or contest the suit.

Those defendants who elect to contest the suit often will (a) move to quash the subpoena to the ISP; (b) move to sever the John Doe defendants from one another; and/or (c) move for leave to proceed anonymously in order to protect their privacy, particularly in those cases involving pornographic media. While numerous district court judges have ruled on such motions, these disputes have yet to percolate up to the Seventh Circuit, leaving each district court to plot its own course in handling this influx of litigation.

Pending before the Court are the following motions:

Case No. 12-cv-6675:
1. Motions by Defendant "John Doe X" to sever and quash[1] (Dkt. 36, 37); and
2. Motion by Plaintiff to compel "John Doe X's" attorney to disclose representation (Dkt. 53).
Case No. 12-cv-6677:
1. Motions by Defendant John Doe 38 to quash; for leave to proceed anonymously; and to sever (Dkt. 18); and
2. Motions by Defendant John Doe 29 to quash; for leave to proceed anonymously; and to sever (Dkt. 20, 22).

Because the allegations in the complaints and the motions filed in the two cases are substantially similar (except for the movie at issue), the Court considers them together for the purposes of this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

Background

The instant cases arise out of the use by individuals of the so-called BitTorrent protocol to download music or movies. BitTorrent uses a "peer-to-peer" sharing protocol, whereby users are able to download large amounts of data from other users. (12-cv-6675 Compl. ¶ 14; 12-cv-6677 Compl. ¶ 14.) Where BitTorrent differs from other methods of downloading media files is that, instead of downloading an entire file from a single "host" computer, a user becomes part of a "swarm" of computers and downloads discrete pieces of a single work from other computers within the same swarm; these pieces are then sewn together into a single, complete work by the user's computer.[2] While the user is downloading blocks from other computers in the swarm, the user is simultaneously uploading blocks of the same work from the user's computer for the benefit of other users in the swarm. (12-cv-6675 Compl. ¶ 15; 12-cv-6677 Compl. ¶ 15.)

The individual who initially uploads the entire file to the torrent site is known as a "seeder." (12-cv-6675 Compl. ¶ 19; 12-cv-6677 Compl. ¶ 19.) Once the work is uploaded, BitTorrent essentially disseminates blocks of the work to separate individuals, who wish to download the work, known as "peers" or "leechers." (12-cv-6675 Compl. ¶¶ 19, 22, 25; 12-cv-6677 Compl. ¶¶ 19, 22, 25.)[3] Once a peer receives its piece of the file, it transmits what it has downloaded to other peers, who are simultaneously downloading and uploading blocks from other peers. (12-cv-6675 Compl. ¶¶ 28-32; 12-cv-6677 Compl. ¶¶ 28-32.) The combination of the peers and seeders is what is referred to as a "swarm." (12-cv-6675 Compl. ¶ 32; 12-cv-6677 Compl. ¶ 32.)

In Case No. 12-cv-6675, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants illegally downloaded and disseminated via BitTorrent a motion picture entitled "Happy Couple, " the copyright to which Plaintiff owns. (12-cv-6675 Compl. ¶¶ 11, 46-49.) In Case No. 12-cv-6677, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants illegally downloaded and disseminated via BitTorrent a motion picture entitled "Backstage, " another work copyrighted by Plaintiff. (12-cv-6677 Compl. ¶¶ 11, 46-49.)

Plaintiff bases its allegations on the results of an investigation it conducted using forensic software to identify the transactions and IP addresses associated with the downloading and sharing of the files. (12-cv-6675 Compl. ¶¶ 36-42; 12-cv-6677 Compl. ¶¶ 36-42.) A list of the IP addresses identified in this manner is attached as Exhibit A to each complaint. The lists expressly indicate that the computers of the John Does accessed the same piece of the copyrighted work, and each piece is identified by a unique value known as a "Hash Identifier" or "Hash Number." (12-cv-6675 Compl. ¶¶ 21, 36-42; 12-cv-6677 Compl. ¶¶ 21, 36-42.)

As Plaintiff explains, the hash number is a "random and unique alphanumeric identifier" tied to a piece of the copyrighted work that acts "like an electronic fingerprint to identify the source and origin of the piece." (12-cv-6675 Compl. ¶¶ 21-22; 12-cv-6677 Compl. ¶¶ 21-22.) In the first case, the Hash Number is "3C80887ED171F1D026BCA9014151A9A831BDC7A7." (12-cv-6675 Compl. ¶ 38.) In the ...


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