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Malibu Media, LLC, A California Limited Liability Company v. John Does 1 Through 13

July 6, 2012

MALIBU MEDIA, LLC, A CALIFORNIA LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN DOES 1 THROUGH 13, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Presently before the court is plaintiff's ex parte application for leave to conduct expedited discovery ("Application") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(d)(1).*fn1

Plaintiff seeks leave of court to serve third-party discovery subpoenas on nonparty Internet Service Providers ("ISP") in order to obtain the true identities of 13 "John Doe" defendants ("John Does"), who are alleged to have infringed on, or contributed to the infringement of, 25 of plaintiff's copyrighted pornographic works that are or were contained on a single website. (See generally Application at 1, Dkt. No. 4; Compl. ¶¶ 2, 13-16.)*fn2 Because plaintiff did not request a hearing, and oral argument would not materially aid the resolution of the pending matter, the court resolves plaintiff's Application on the moving papers and record. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); E. Dist. Local Rule 230(g). In consideration of the Application, and for the reasons stated below, the court grants plaintiff's Application for leave to conduct early discovery in part, and authorizes plaintiff to serve one nonparty subpoena pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45 in accordance with the remainder of this order.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants identified as "John Does 1 through 13" asserting claims of copyright infringement and contributory infringement in regards to 25 copyrighted works that were contained on a single website ("Works").*fn3 (See Compl. ¶¶ 2, 13-15.) Plaintiff alleges that it owns the federal copyrights to the Works.*fn4 (See id. ¶¶ 12, 48, 55 & Ex. B.)

Plaintiff alleges that the John Does, acting in concert with each other, used an online peer-to-peer media distribution system, a "BitTorrent" file sharing protocol, to download and distribute the website that contained the Works.*fn5 (See Compl. ¶¶ 11, 15-16, 19, 31, 36, 38, 49, 57.) Plaintiff's complaint does not identify the particular website in question, but alleges that defendants were able to convert that entire website, including the Works, into a torrent file through a maneuver characterized by plaintiff as a "siterip." (See id. ¶ 2 ("Each of the Defendants copied and distributed a website containing 25 federally registered copyrighted movies owned by Plaintiff . . . . This is known as a 'siterip.'"); see also id. ¶ 14 ("Each of the Works were on a website that was converted into are in a single torrent file, as evidenced by a single unique Cryptographic Hash Value").)

Plaintiff alleges that it does not know the actual name of any of the John Does at this time.*fn6 (See id. ¶ 8; see also Kushner Decl. ¶ 2, Dkt. No. 4, Doc. No. 4-4.) However, through use of an investigator, plaintiff identified evidence of the John Does' alleged infringing activities. Specifically, plaintiff's investigator identified each John Doe by a unique Internet Protocol ("IP") address that corresponds with that John Doe's alleged infringing activity conducted while participating in the BitTorrent swarm.*fn7 (See Compl. ¶¶ 36, 38-40 & Ex. A; Fieser Decl. ¶¶ 15-21 & Ex. B, Dkt. No. 4, Doc. Nos. 4-1, 4-3.) Plaintiff's investigator used a "unique hash number" associated with the particular torrent file at issue as a sort of digital fingerprint to identify the IP addresses associated with the alleged members of the swarm.*fn8 (See Compl. ¶¶ 40-42 & Ex. A; Fieser Decl. ¶¶ 18-19 & Ex. B.) The investigator also viewed a control copy of the Works along side the digital media file identified by the unique hash number and associated with the subject IP addresses, and "determined that the digital media file contained movies that were identical, strikingly similar or substantially similar" to the Works. (See Fieser Decl. ¶ 21; see also Compl. ¶ 44.)

Shortly after filing the complaint, plaintiff filed the pending Application in order to discover the John Does' actual names and contact information so that plaintiff may name them in an amended complaint and serve them with process. (See Application at 1, 4-5.) Specifically, plaintiff seeks leave of court to serve Rule 45 subpoenas on ISPs associated with the various IP addresses in order to identify each John Doe defendant.*fn9

No status (pretrial scheduling) conference has been set in this case. (See Order Requiring Joint Status Report ¶¶ 4-5, Dkt. No. 3.) It is highly unlikely that a discovery conference pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(f) has taken place, or could take place, given plaintiff's representation that it does not presently know any of the John Does' true names.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(d)(1) provides: "A party may not seek discovery from any source before the parties have conferred as required by Rule 26(f), except in a proceeding exempted from initial disclosure under Rule 26(a)(1)(B), or when authorized by these rules, by stipulation, or by court order" (emphasis added). District courts within the Ninth Circuit have permitted expedited discovery prior to the Rule 26(f) conference upon a showing of "good cause." See, e.g., In re Countrywide Fin. Corp. Derivative Litig., 542 F. Supp. 2d 1160, 1179 (C.D. Cal. 2008) (citing Semitool, Inc. v. Tokyo Electron Am., Inc., 208 F.R.D. 273 (N.D. Cal. 2002)); accord Am. LegalNet, Inc. v. Davis, 673 F. Supp. 2d 1063, 1066 (C.D. Cal. 2009). "Good cause exists where the need for expedited discovery, in consideration of the administration of justice, outweighs the prejudice to the responding party." In re Countrywide Fin. Corp. Derivative Litig., 542 F. Supp. 2d at 1179 (citation and quotation marks omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

Here, plaintiff seeks permission to conduct early or expedited discovery and serve Rule 45 subpoenas on ISPs that might be able to assist plaintiff in identifying the true identities of the John Does. District courts within the Ninth Circuit have often found good cause supporting early or expedited discovery in cases where the plaintiff alleged copyright infringement accomplished through distribution of the work over a peer-to-peer network, and where the plaintiff only named Doe defendants and sought early discovery to obtain the identities and contact information of the alleged infringers from associated ISPs. See, e.g., Berlin Media Art E.K. v. Does 1 through 146, No. S-11-2039 KJM GGH, 2011 WL 4056167, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 12, 2011) (unpublished) (granting leave to conduct expedited discovery in the form of Rule 45 subpoenas seeking "information sufficient to identify each Doe defendant by name, current and permanent address, telephone number, and e-mail address"); UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Doe, No. C 08-1193 SBA, 2008 WL 4104214, at *4-5 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 3, 2008) (unpublished) (granting leave to conduct expedited discovery in the form of Rule 45 subpoenas seeking "documents that identify Defendant, including the name, current (and permanent) address and telephone number, e-mail address, and Media Access Control addresses for Defendant" John Doe); Arista Records LLC v. Does 1-43, No. 07cv2357-LAB (POR), 2007 WL 4538697, at *1-2 (S.D. Cal. Dec. 20, 2007) (granting leave to conduct expedited discovery in the form of Rule 45 subpoenas seeking documents that would reveal each Doe defendant's "true name, current and permanent addresses and telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and Media Access Control addresses."); but see Hard Drive Prods., Inc. v. Does 1-90, No. C 11-03825 HRL, 2012 WL 1094653, at *7 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 30, 2012) (unpublished) (stating that "the court will not assist a plaintiff who seems to have no desire to actually litigate but instead seems to be using the courts to pursue an extra-judicial business plan against possible infringers (and innocent others caught up in the ISP net)").*fn10

For example, in Arista Records LLC, the plaintiffs alleged that unidentified defendants used an online media distribution system to download and distribute plaintiffs' copyrighted works to the public without permission. Arista Records LLC, 2007 WL 4538697, at *1. Because the plaintiffs were only able to identify each defendant by a unique IP address assigned to that defendant, plaintiffs filed an ex parte application seeking leave to immediately serve discovery on a nonparty ISPs to identify the Doe defendants' true identities. Id. The district court found good cause to allow expedited discovery on the basis of the plaintiffs' prima facie showing of infringement, the risk that the ISP would not long preserve the information sought, the narrow tailoring of the requests to the minimum amount of information needed to identify the defendants without prejudicing their rights, and the fact that the expedited discovery would ...


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