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TCYK, LLC v. Does 1-87

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 9, 2013

TCYK, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
DOES 1-87, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN J. THARP, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff TCYK, LLC, brings a complaint for copyright infringement against eighty-seven unnamed "John Doe" defendants[1]who, it alleges, unlawfully acquired and transferred the plaintiff's copyrighted motion picture, "The Company You Keep" (the "Movie"). The Court previously granted the plaintiff leave to subpoena the nonparty Internet Service Providers (the "ISPs") from which the Doe defendants obtain Internet access in order to discover the Doe defendants' true identities, prohibiting the plaintiff from publishing the identities of the Doe defendants in any way without the Court's leave. Now before the Court are three motions by three defendants that seek to quash the subpoenas, sever and dismiss the defendants, and impose a protective order. For the reasons that follow, the motions are denied.

BACKGROUND

The Doe defendants are currently known to the plaintiff only by the Internet Protocol ("IP") addresses assigned to them by their ISPs. The plaintiff issued third-party subpoenas to the ISPs requesting information sufficient to identify the true identity of each of the Doe defendants. Some of those defendants, after being notified of the subpoena by their ISP, have moved to quash the subpoenas or to sever and dismiss the Doe defendants as improperly joined. The following motions are before the Court:

• John Doe No. 74, IP address 98.212.180.132, moves to quash the subpoena and for a protective order on the grounds that the subpoena violates his or her privacy, is overbroad, would not lead to relevant or admissible information, and does not suitably verify the basis of the request. Doe No. 74 additionally argues that it would violate his or her due process rights to be subject to discovery without having first been served with a complaint. Dkt. 16.
• Ashley Sierra, on behalf of IP address 71.239.76.10, moves to quash the subpoena because it violates Illinois Supreme Court Rule 224, which governs certain discovery procedures in Illinois state courts, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act ("ECPA"), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2701-2703, which prohibits disclosure of the contents of electronic communications except in some circumstances. Dkt. 18.
• John Doe No. 22, IP address 76.16.62.222, moves to sever and dismiss Does 2-87 because joinder is improper under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. 19.

DISCUSSION

The arguments asserted in these motions have been examined at length in other opinions issued by courts in this district and elsewhere. This Court's discussion is therefore brief.

I. The BitTorrent Protocol

The plaintiff alleges that each of the defendants used the BitTorrent protocol to download and distribute its Movie. This Court described the BitTorrent protocol in an earlier order in this case. See TCYK, LLC v. Does 1-87, 13 C 3845, 2013 WL 3465186 (N.D. Ill. July 10, 2013) (Dkt. 12). Other courts in this district have also explained how BitTorrent is used to download media. See, e.g., Malibu Media, LLC v. John Does 1-6, 85 Fed. R. Serv. 3d 1187 (N.D. Ill. 2013); Malibu Media, LLC v. Reynolds, 12 C 6672, 2013 WL 870618 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 7, 2013).

To briefly summarize, BitTorrent is a software protocol that facilitates peer-to-peer file sharing used to distribute large data files over the Internet. An initial file-provider (the "seeder") shares an initial file (the "seed") with a torrent network. Other users ("peers") intentionally connect to the seed file to download it. Each peer receives a segment (a "piece") of the file, then immediately becomes a source of that piece for other peers, relieving the seeder from having to send that piece in response to every new request. As additional peers request and receive pieces of the same file, each user becomes a part of the network from which the file can be downloaded. The group of seeders and peers uploading and downloading an identical file is called a "swarm." After a peer downloads the whole file, it continues to transmit pieces to other users until it disconnects, after which the pieces can continue to circulate throughout the swarm. The plaintiff alleges that each of the Doe defendants participated in the same BitTorrent swarm to download and distribute its Movie.

II. Motions to Quash and Motion for a Protective Order

In federal court, procedural issues involving subpoenas are governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45. Rule 45(a) allows the issuance of subpoenas to command a recipient to produce documents in one's "possession, custody, or control." Courts must quash a subpoena that (1) fails to allow a reasonable time for compliance, (2) requires a nonparty to travel more than 100 miles, (3) "requires disclosure of privileged or other protected matter, if no exception or waiver applies, " or (4) "subjects a person to undue burden." Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(c)(3)(A). When assessing whether a subpoena subjects a person to undue burden, it considers whether the "burden of compliance with it would exceed the benefit of production of the material sought." Nw. Mem'l Hosp. v. Ashcroft, 362 F.3d 923, 927 (7th Cir. 2004). The party moving to quash bears the burden of showing that the subpoena ...


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