November 26, 2020

Volume X, Number 331

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BitTorrent Participants Improperly Joined in Same Suit

In Breaking Glass Pictures v. Does 1-99, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio held that individual participants in "peer-to-peer" file sharing protocol could not be joined as defendants in the same suit for copyright infringement.  No. 1:13 CV 0083, 2013 WL 5720139 (N.D. Ohio Oct. 4, 2013).  The plaintiff brought a series of eight other nearly identical suits in the Northern District of Ohio, alleging copyright infringement of a motion picture entitled "6 Degrees of Hell."

In all nine cases, plaintiff alleged that the defendants infringed its copyright by illegally sharing copies of its motion picture through file sharing protocol called BitTorrent.  BitTorrent allows users to participate in a "swarm," which allows users to download files in bits and pieces until they have downloaded the entire file.  This type of file sharing allows for a certain degree of anonymity because the swarm participants are identified only by their IP address, which is why none of the suits identify the defendants by name.

The court in this case declined to accept the magistrate judge's proposal to consolidate the nine cases because they were in different stages of litigation.  Moreover, the court adopted the decision in  Breaking Glass Pictures v. Does 1-84, No. 1:13 CV 806 (N.D. Ohio June 25, 2013) in which the court held that defendants were improperly joined, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 20, which permits joinder where defendants are part of the same transaction or occurrence.  The court in that case reasoned that use of BitTorrent was insufficient to establish that defendants acted in concert such that they were part of the same transaction or occurrence.  In fact, plaintiff's evidence demonstrated that defendants were not part of the same occurrence because it showed that the defendants accessed the swarms at different times, on different days, using different BitTorrent clients.  Moreover, the court was unconvinced that plaintiff properly plead a prima facie case of copyright infringement because members of a swarm could download a single piece of a file, then leave the swarm without ever completing the full download, rendering useless the small piece of downloaded material.

The result in the instant case was that the court severed plainitff's claims and ordered it to decide which defendant will remain in the case.  

The court further granted non-party Buckeye CableSystem's motion to quash plaintiff's subpoena requesting the names, addresses, email addresses, media control, and other information of the unnamed defendants.

© 2020 Odin, Feldman & Pittleman, P.C.National Law Review, Volume III, Number 332
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About this Author

Jonathan D. Frieden, Odin Feldman Law Firm, E-commerce Attorney
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A degree in systems engineering and a background in computer coding have helped inform Jon Frieden’s approach to successfully handling a broad range of matters for his technology clients. As a self-described “early adopter,” Jon was one of the first attorneys in Northern Virginia to focus on Internet law and e-commerce.

With a practice centered on complex Internet- and technology-related commercial disputes and transactions, Jon brings a two-pronged approach to helping clients achieve success. Jon’s litigation experience helps structure deals for his clients that avoid potential...

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