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Judge to movie studios: Why shouldn't I dismiss piracy lawsuits?

Improper joining of 4,577 downloaders alleged

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A federal judge has ordered attorneys representing movie studios to explain why they lumped thousands of alleged copyright violators into just two lawsuits, an indication she is seriously considering claims by ISP Time Warner and civil liberties advocates that the actions violate well-established court procedures.

Rosemary M. Collyer of the US District Court for the District of Columbia gave the attorneys until June 21 to explain why more than 4,500 defendants shouldn't be dismissed “for misjoinder,” a legal term used to describe the improper joining of defendants in a single lawsuit. The alleged pirates of independent movies are named as John Does in two separate lawsuits, which seek subpoenas ordering Time Warner and other internet service providers to identify customers behind a massive list of IP numbers.

Collyer's instructions came after Time Warner and civil liberties advocates argued the complaints suing 4,577 defendants were improperly filed. Under US Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, lawsuits generally must be filed in court districts in which the defendants live and each defendant named in a single complaint must be accused of carrying out the “same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences.”

According to a friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Public Citizen Litigation Group, many defendants live outside of the District of Columbia and there is no evidence the alleged downloaders are connected, except for the movies they sought and their use of BitTorrent.

“Of particular importance here, before the defendant’s identity can be disclosed, a plaintiff must come forward with some evidence that each individual defendant infringed the plaintiff’s rights, and each defendant must be given notice and an opportunity to quash,” lawyers for the groups wrote in the brief.

The brief follows opposition mounted by Time Warner, which in separate court documents has sought the quashing of subpoenas seeking the identities of thousands of its customers. Among other things, the ISP has argued the demands are overly burdensome.

The complaints were filed by the attorneys from US Copyright Group on behalf of studios that produced the independent films Far Cry and The Steam Experiment. The attorneys have accused called Time Warner's opposition “procedurally defective” and argued the information they are seeking is not confidential or privileged. ®

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