from the good-to-see dept
That case made its way slowly through the appeals process, and earlier today, the DC Circuit appeals court overturned the ruling, highlighting a bunch of Prenda's bad behavior, but (perhaps more importantly) pointing out that the subpoenas for information on these 1,000+ Does was clearly inappropriate, first because almost none of the Does appeared to live in Washington DC, and thus were outside the court's jurisdiction. Prenda/AF Holdings complete failure to do anything even remotely close to figuring out if people might be located in DC was pretty damning here:
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 45 and 26 set forth the relevant considerations. Rule 45(d)(3)(A) requires a district court to “quash or modify a subpoena that . . . subjects a person to undue burden.” If a subpoena compels disclosure of information that is not properly discoverable, then the burden it imposes, however slight, is necessarily undue: why require a party to produce information the requesting party has no right to obtain?And, here, the court certainly finds the discovery attempts to be "undue," because AF Holdings/Prenda could show no good faith belief that they were going after information relevant to a lawsuit in that court.
Here, we think it quite obvious that AF Holdings could not possibly have had a good faith belief that it could successfully sue the overwhelming majority of the 1,058 John Doe defendants in this district. AF Holdings concedes that under the District of Columbia’s long-arm statute, which along with the Due Process Clause governs this question... the only conceivable way that personal jurisdiction might properly be exercised over these Doe defendants is if they are residents of the District of Columbia or at least downloaded the copyrighted work in the District.... But AF Holdings has made absolutely no effort to limit its suit or its discovery efforts to those defendants who might live or have downloaded Popular Demand in the District of Columbia. Instead, it sought to subpoena Internet service providers that provide no service at all in the District. As Duffy reluctantly conceded at oral argument, AF Holdings could have no legitimate reason for objecting to the court’s quashing the subpoenas directed at these providers.... Even for those providers that do serve the District of Columbia, AF Holdings’s discovery demands were overbroad because it made no attempt to limit its inquiry to those subscribers who might actually be located in the District. It could have easily done so using what are known as geolocation services, which enable anyone to estimate the location of Internet users based on their IP addresses. Such services cost very little or are even free.The court notes that Prenda's failure to do even the most basic things to limit discovery raises questions about its motives:
Given AF Holdings’s failure to take even these minimal steps, we cannot escape the conclusion that it sought the vast majority of this information for reasons unrelated to its pursuit of this particular lawsuit.... . Indeed, Duffy essentially admitted as much at oral argument, stating that if, as appears to be the case, 399 of Comcast’s 400 identified subscribers were found to live outside the District, “the 399 likely wouldn’t be named as defendants in this case.”The court then checks in on the big question of "joinder" -- and whether or not it's appropriate to lump together over 1,000 totally unrelated individuals in one of these copyright trolling lawsuits. Like most courts to date, but unlike Judge Howell, the appeals court sees how problematic this is.
We are unconvinced. For purposes of this case, we may assume that two individuals who participate in the same swarm at the same time are part of the same series of transactions within the meaning of Rule 20(a)(2). In that circumstance, the individuals might well be actively sharing a file with one another, uploading and downloading pieces of the copyrighted work from the other members of the swarm.It's nice to see that the court picked up on many of the amicus arguments made by EFF, ACLU, Public Knowledge and Public Citizen.
But AF Holdings has provided no reason to think that the Doe defendants it named in this lawsuit were ever participating in the same swarm at the same time. Instead, it has simply set forth snapshots of a precise moment in which each of these 1,058 Does allegedly shared the copyrighted work—snapshots that span a period of nearly five months. Two individuals who downloaded the same file five months apart are exceedingly unlikely to have had any interaction with one another whatsoever. Their only relationship is that they used the same protocol to access the same work. To paraphrase an analogy offered by amicus counsel at oral argument, two BitTorrent users who download the same file months apart are like two individuals who play at the same blackjack table at different times. They may have won the same amount of money, employed the same strategy, and perhaps even played with the same dealer, but they have still engaged in entirely separate transactions.... We therefore agree with those district courts that have concluded that the mere fact that two defendants accessed the same file through BitTorrent provides an insufficient basis for joinder.
Oh, and, in case you're wondering about all the other stuff, such as the Alan Cooper forgery, the court notes those allegations, while saying they are unrelated to the issues here, but, at the very end, in sending the case back to the district court, tosses this in:
Accordingly, we vacate the district court’s order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We leave it to the district court to determine what sanctions, if any, are warranted for AF Holdings’s use of a possible forgery in support of its claim.