Monday, May 21, 2012

Bit Torrent John Doe Cases Limited by Maryland's Federal Court; Risk of Extortionate Settlements Too Great

In the past year, I have handled several Bit Torrent file-sharing cases.

Recently, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland (Judge Chasanow) in Third Degree Films v. Does 1-108 ruled that copyright plaintiffs may not join multiple “John Doe” defendants in a single copyright infringement case that alleges copyright infringement via “Bit Torrent” file-sharing.

The plaintiff was suing 108 John Doe defendants for the alleged infringement of a porn film. Plaintiffs in such cases used Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 20 as the basis for joining multiple defendants in one case. This allowed the plaintiffs to pay a single $350.00 filing fee to sue hundreds of defendants, and allowed those plaintiffs to save on legal fees as well.

The Court held that: “the risk of extortionate settlements is too great to ignore,” that “the risk of inappropriate settlement leverage is enhanced in a case . . . involving salacious and graphic sexual content where a defendant may be urged to resolve a matter at an inflated value to avoid disclosure of the content the defendant was accessing,” and that the “prejudice, expense, or delay” of joining such defendants substantially outweigh the convenience of such joinder.

This may be a significant blow to the porn companies and legitimate movie studios that have been using joinder of dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of John Doe defendants to make their cases economically feasible. The filing fee for a federal case with 100 defendants is $350.00. The filing fee for a case with one defendant is $350.00. If the copyright plaintiff wants to sue 100 defendants, it will now have to pay $35,000.00 in filing fees to initiate a case that last month cost only $350.00.

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