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Tcyk, LLC v. Does

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 20, 2014

TCYK, LLC, Plaintiff,
DOES 1-44, Defendants.


ROBERT M. DOW, Jr., District Judge.

Before the Court are four separate motions to sever defendants for improper joinder and/or quash third-party subpoenas, filed by two unspecified pro se John Does [18, 19], John Doe 11 [21], and Defendant Babafemi George [24]. For the reasons stated below, the motions filed by the two John Does and Babafemi George [18, 19, and 24] are denied. John Doe 11's motion [21] is denied as moot, because Plaintiff has voluntarily dismissed John Doe 11 from the case without prejudice. See [30 and 41].

I. Background

On May 23, 2013, Plaintiff TCYK, LLC ("TCYK"), a motion picture producer and developer, brought this copyright infringement suit against forty-four John Does. TCYK alleges that each Defendant illegally downloaded and/or uploaded a copy of TCYK's motion picture "The Company You Keep, " starring Robert Redford and Susan Sarandon, using computer software known as BitTorrent. BitTorrent is a software protocol that facilitates internet file-sharing. Compared with the standard peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol in which one user downloads a file directly from another, BitTorrent allows users to download different small pieces of a file simultaneously from many users. Consequently, BitTorrent enables file-sharing at relative high speeds.

As Judge Tharp explained:

To share information using BitTorrent, an initial file-provider (the "seeder") elects to share an initial file, called a "seed, " with a torrent network. The file to be distributed is divided into segments called "pieces." Other users ("peers") intentionally connect to the seed file to download it. As each peer receives a new piece of the file, the peer also immediately becomes a source of that piece for other peers, relieving the original seeder from having to send that piece to every peer requesting a copy. This is the key difference between BitTorrent and earlier peer-to-peer file sharing systems: "BitTorrent makes file sharing a cooperative endeavor."

TCYK, LLC v. Does 1-87, 2013 WL 3465186, at *1 (N.D. Ill. July 10, 2013) (quoting The Case Against Combating BitTorrent Piracy through Mass. John Doe Copyright Infringement Lawsuits, 111 Mich. L. Rev. 283, 290 (2012)).

Each user who downloads the seed file becomes a potential source of a piece of that file for peers who seek to download it subsequently. As more users download the file, thereby increasing the number of sources from which potential downloaders can take bits of that file, downloading speeds increase for future users. The users who download and upload the same seed file are called, collectively, a "swarm." Once a user who seeks to download a file connects to (effectively joining) an existing swarm, he continuously takes pieces of the seed file from the other users in the swarm until he has downloaded a completed file. Those sources are, by definition, in the swarm because they have already downloaded the seed file. And that new swarm member who joined the swarm to download the file is now also a potential source of file bits for future downloaders who join the swarm. Swarm members are only a potential source, because users must be logged in to the BitTorrent software to share files. Therefore, swarm members must be logged in to the BitTorrent protocol simultaneously to be in the same swarm at the same time. See Compl. ¶ 4; see also Malibu Media, LLC v. Reynolds, 2013 WL 870618, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 7, 2013).

TCYK alleges that John Does 1-44 participated in the same swarm to download and/or upload an identical version ( i.e., the same seed file) of The Company You Keep. Plaintiff does not know the true names of the Defendants at this time. Instead, Plaintiff knows the Internet Protocol ("IP") address assigned to each Defendant by his or her Internet Service Provider ("ISP"). Exhibit B to Plaintiff's complaint is a spreadsheet that, according to Plaintiff, captures the IP addresses, ISPs, and geographic locations of the forty-four John Doe Defendants, as well as the date and time that each IP address downloaded the common seed file. Plaintiff believes that discovery will lead to the true names of the Defendants, at which time Plaintiff intends to amend its complaint with that information.

To that end, Plaintiff has issued third-party subpoenas to the ISPs identified on Exhibit B, seeking the identities and personal information associated with the corresponding IP addresses. Several Defendants, having been informed of the subpoena (and this lawsuit) by their ISP, now seek to quash the subpoena and/or sever all defendants for improper joinder. More specifically:

• An unspecified John Doe argues [18] that Plaintiff has improperly joined the forty-four Defendants because Plaintiff does not allege that they participated in the same swarm at the same time, such that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2) requires the Court to dismiss forty-three of them from the case.
• Another unspecified John Doe makes the same argument [19] and, in the alternative, argues that Plaintiff's third-party subpoena to his ISP provider should be quashed because the person to whom the IP address is assigned may not be the only person who accessed the internet through that address.
• Babafemi George, who purports to be a Defendant but does not identify himself by John Doe number or IP address, seeks [24] to quash Plaintiff's subpoena, because - seemingly confused as to whom the subpoena is directed - he is not in possession of the ...

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