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LHF Productions Inc. v. Does

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

December 22, 2016

LHF PRODUCTIONS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          M. Hannah Lauck Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on two motions: (1) the Motion for Discovery for Leave to Serve Third Party Subpoenas (the "Motion for Discovery") filed by LHF Productions, Inc. ("LHF"), (ECF No. 2); and, (2) the First Motion to Extend Time Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m) (the "Motion to Extend") filed by LHF, (ECF No. 6). The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1338(a).[1] The Court dispenses with oral argument because the materials before it adequately present the facts and legal contentions, and argument would not aid the decisional process. For the reasons that follow, the Court will: (1) sever and dismiss without prejudice all defendants except John Doe 1; (2) grant the Motion for Discovery as to John Doe 1; and, (3) grant the Motion to Extend as to John Doe 1.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         A. Allegations in the Complaint

         On September 9, 2016, LHF filed its Complaint for Copyright Infringement against John Does 1-10 in this Court.[2] (ECF No. 1.) The Complaint listed 10 John Doe defendants ("the Defendants"), identified by their Internet Protocol ("IP") addresses, who had allegedly infringed on LHFs copyrighted work, the motion picture London Has Fallen ("the Movie"), in violation of the United States Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101, et seq. To establish personal jurisdiction in this District, LHF used "geolocation technology" to trace the IP addresses of all the Defendants to a point of origin within this District.

         The Complaint alleges that, using a network called a "BitTorrent protocol" ("BitTorrent"), the Defendants "reproduced, distributed[, ] and offered to distribute" the Movie without LHF's consent or permission. (Compl. 2-3.) The Defendants' alleged use of BitTorrent occurred over the span of one day: June 4, 2016. LHF contends that BitTorrent differs from a Peer-to-Peer protocol in that it facilitates data-sharing among individuals and "makes even small computers with low bandwidth capable of participating in large data transfers." (Id. at 2.) In BitTorrent, the initial shared file is called a "seed, " and other users on the network are called "peers." When peers connect to the network and request the seed, they receive different pieces of the seed data from other peers who have already downloaded the file. Each peer thus "becomes a part of the network from which the file can be downloaded." (Id.) This group of peers is called a "swarm." LHF claims that with BitTorrent, "every downloader [is] also an uploader" of the shared file, and every member of a swarm serves as a source for the seed file, so long as the member remains online at the time other peers download the file. (Id. at 2-3.) Furthermore, "because of the nature of the swarm downloads ... every [peer] is [downloading seed data] from many [ISPs] in numerous jurisdictions." (Id. at 3.) Uploading one seed file to a BitTorrent network "can result in nearly instantaneous worldwide distribution of that single [file] to a limitless number of people." (Id.)

         LHF asserts that "each Defendant deliberately participated in a swarm and/or reproduced and/or distributed the same seed file" of the Movie, and thereby "participated in a collective and interdependent manner with other Defendants" to infringe LHF's copyright. (Id. at 5-6.) LHF states that because all the Defendants participated in the "same swarm" using BitTorrent, all the Defendants participated in the "same transaction, occurrence [, ] or series of transactions or occurrences as the other Defendants in the swarm." (Id. at 6.) LHF seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief.

         B. The Motion for Discovery

         On October 31, 2016, LHF filed the Motion for Discovery. LHF seeks leave to serve limited discovery on the Internet Service Providers ("ISPs") from which the Defendants obtain Internet access in order to determine the Defendants' identities. In support of the Motion for Discovery, LHF asserts, inter alia, that: (1) good cause exists to grant the motion; (2) LHF seeks limited and specific discovery; (3) no alternative means exists to learn Defendants' identities; (4) LHF requires discovery to advance its asserted claims; and, (5) LHF's interest in knowing Defendants' identities outweighs Defendants' interests in remaining anonymous. (Id. at 6-13.) LHF requests the Court's permission to "serve a Rule 45[3] subpoena on the ISPs it has identified as of this date ... so that the ISPs can divulge the true name and address of each Doe Defendant that Plaintiff has identified to date" (Mot. Disc. 15.)

         C. The Motion to Extend Time

         On December 7, 2016, LHF filed the Motion to Extend, requesting the Court to extend time to serve the Defendants. LHF requests an extension of ninety days "until March 8, 2017[, ] to complete identification, joinder, and service of the defendants in this case." (Mot. Extend Time 1.)

         II. The Court Will Sua Sponte Sever All Defendants Except John Doe 1

         A. Legal Standard for Joinder of Defendants

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2) allows joinder of defendants if: "(A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and[, ] (B) any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2). Although misjoinder cannot undergird the dismissal of an action, "[o]n motion or on its own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party. The court may also sever any claim against a party." Fed.R.Civ.P. 21 (emphasis added).

         Rule 20 supports the "broadest possible scope of action consistent with fairness to the parties; joinder of claims, parties[, ] and remedies is strongly encouraged." United Mine Workers v. Gibbs,383 U.S. 715, 724 (1966). "[T]he rule should be construed in light of its purpose, which 'is to promote trial convenience and expedite the final determination of disputes, thereby preventing multiple lawsuits.'" Saval v. BL Ltd.,710 F.2d 1027, 1031 (4th Cir. 1983) (quoting Mosley v. General Motors Corp.,497 F.2d 1330, 1332 (8th Cir. 1974)). The transaction or occurrence test of Rule 20 generally proceeds on a case by case basis, and permits all "reasonably related claims ... to be tried in a single proceeding." Id. If the joinder of parties or claims will result in prejudice, expense, or delay, the Court has discretion to deny ...


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