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Patrick Collins, Inc v. John Does 1 Through 34

July 25, 2012

PATRICK COLLINS, INC.,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN DOES 1 THROUGH 34,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David H. Bartick United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO SERVE THIRD PARTY SUBPOENA PRIOR TO A RULE 26(f) CONFERENCE [ECF No. 4]

On June 19, 2012, Plaintiff Patrick Collins, Inc. filed a Motion for Leave to Serve Third Party Subpoena Prior to a Rule 26(f) Conference. (ECF No. 4.) Because no Defendant has been named or served, no opposition or reply briefs have been filed. On July 23, 2012, the Court issued an order vacating the July 24, 2012 hearing on Plaintiff's Motion after finding the matter suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1). (ECF No. 5.) For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On June 18, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against John Does 1 through 34 ("Defendants"). (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff asserts it is the registered owner of the copyright for the motion picture entitled "Best New Starlets 2012." (ECF No. 1, at ¶ 11.) Plaintiff alleges a claim for copyright infringement, stating that Defendants reproduced and distributed Plaintiff's copyrighted work through the Internet without Plaintiff's authorization. (Id. at ¶ 45-51.) Plaintiff also pleads contributory copyright infringement, alleging that Defendants illegally obtained the copyrighted work and assisted others in doing the same. (Id. at ¶ 52-61.)

On June 19, 2012, one day after filing the Complaint, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion in which Plaintiff seeks leave to take early discovery to learn the identities of the Doe Defendants from their respective Internet Service Providers ("ISPs"). Specifically, Plaintiff seeks an order permitting it to serve Rule 45 subpoenas on the third party ISPs and any related intermediary ISPs demanding the true name, address, telephone number, e-mail address and Media Access Control ("MAC") address of the Defendant to whom the ISP issued an Internet Protocol ("IP") address. (ECF No. 4, at 1:18-21.) Plaintiff attached to its Motion a list of the IP addresses associated with the subscribers it hopes to identify as Defendants. (See ECF No. 4-4, Decl. Tobias Feiser ("Feiser Decl."), Ex. B.)

II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the thirty-four Doe Defendants collectively infringed its copyrighted work using a BitTorrent file transfer protocol. (ECF No. 1, at ¶¶ 16-42.) The Defendants are purportedly a collection of "BitTorrent users" or "peers" whose computers are connected for the purpose of sharing a file, otherwise known as a "swarm." (Id. at ¶ 15 ("The BitTorrent protocol's popularity stems from its ability to distribute a large file without creating a heavy load on the source computer and network. In short, to reduce the load on the source computer, rather than downloading a file from a single source computer (one computer directly connected to another), the BitTorrent protocol allows users to join a 'swarm' of host computers to download and upload from each other simultaneously (one computer connected to numerous computers).")

Plaintiff alleges that following Defendants' unlawful infringement of its copyrighted work using the BitTorrent protocol and file-sharing "swarm," Plaintiff retained IPP, Limited ("IPP"), a computer forensic investigation firm, to identify the IP addresses being used to participate in the infringement. (ECF No. 1, at ¶ 36.) Plaintiff further alleges that IPP utilized computer forensic software to determine that each Defendant copied a portion of Plaintiff's copyrighted work during the same series of transactions and that Defendants were identified by their IP addresses. (Id. at ¶¶ 37-42.)

III. LEGAL STANDARDS

Generally, discovery is not permitted without a court order before the parties have conferred pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(f). Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(d)(1). "[H]owever, in rare cases, courts have made exceptions, permitting limited discovery to ensue after filing of the complaint to permit the plaintiff to learn the identifying facts necessary to permit service on the defendant." Columbia Ins. Co. v. Seescandy.com, 185 F.R.D. 573, 577 (N.D. Cal. 1999) (citing Gillespie v. Civiletti, 629 F.2d 637, 642 (9th Cir. 1980)). Requests for early or expedited discovery are granted upon a showing by the moving party of good cause. See Semitool, Inc. v. Tokyo Electron Am., Inc., 208 F.R.D. 273, 275-76 (N.D. Cal. 2002) (applying "the conventional standard of good cause in evaluating Plaintiff's request for expedited discovery").

"The Ninth Circuit has held that when the defendants' identities are unknown at the time the complaint is filed, courts may grant plaintiffs leave to take early discovery to determine the defendants' identities 'unless it is clear that discovery would not uncover the identities, or that the complaint would be dismissed on other grounds.'" 808 Holdings, LLC v. Collective of December 29, 2011 Sharing Hash, No. 12-cv-0186 MMA (RBB), 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62980, *7 (S.D. Cal. May 4, 2012) (quoting Gillespie, 629 F.2d at 642). "A district court's decision to grant discovery to determine jurisdictional facts is a matter of discretion." Columbia Ins., 185 F.R.D. at 578 (citing Wells Fargo & Co. v. Wells Fargo Express Co., 556 F.2d 406, 430 n.24 (9th Cir. 1977)).

District courts apply a three-factor test when considering motions for early discovery to identify certain defendants. Id. at 578-80. First, "the plaintiff should identify the missing party with sufficient specificity such that the Court can determine that defendant is a real person or entity who could be sued in federal court." Id. at 578. Second, the plaintiff "should identify all previous steps taken to locate the elusive defendant" to ensure that the plaintiff has made a good faith effort to identify and serve process on the defendant. Id. at 579. Third, the "plaintiff should establish to the Court's satisfaction that plaintiff's suit against defendant could withstand a motion to dismiss." Id. (citing Gillespie, 629 F.2d at 642). "[T]o prevent abuse of this extraordinary application of the discovery process and to ensure that the plaintiff has standing to pursue an action against defendant," plaintiff must show that some act giving rise to liability actually occurred and that the discovery is aimed at identifying the person who allegedly committed the act. Id. at 579-80 (citing Plant v. Various John Does, 19 F. Supp. 2d 1316, 1321 n.2 (S.D. Fla. 1998)).

IV. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff seeks an order permitting it to subpoena three ISPs for documents and information sufficient to identify the subscribers of the assigned IP addresses listed in Exhibit B to declaration of Tobias Feiser filed in support of Plaintiff's Motion: (1) Cox Communications; (2) Road ...


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