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BitTorrent Users Sharing Same Piece Can't Be Joined

Thursday, February 21, 2013

BitTorrent users who allegedly shared the same copyrighted work, or piece of that work, with an investigator cannot be joined as defendants in an infringement lawsuit because they did not interact with each other, a magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois recommended Feb. 11 (In Re BitTorrent Copyright Infringement Cases, C.D. Ill., No. 1:12-cv-01189-MMM-JAG, 2/11/13).

Magistrate Judge John A. Gorman severed all but one Doe defendant in each of 11 copyright infringement cases brought against anonymous BitTorrent users. The plaintiff's argument that each of the defendants could be joined based on their participation in the same BitTorrent “swarm” broke down upon review of the investigator's reports. The reports showed that each of the Does' computers shared a file with the same hash identifier.

“If that is true, then 'reassembly' of all those files could not possibly result in the creation of a full version of the work,” the magistrate concluded. Files shared via BitTorrent are broken down into smaller pieces--and each piece is assigned a unique hash identifier.

“Despite the boilerplate language, what we have in each case are a number of separate and discrete transactions in which computers owned by various individuals used the same software to access the same internet file and, at a different time, their computers talked to the same person.”

The magistrate went on to conclude that subpoenas issued to the defendants' internet service providers were overbroad. The subpoenas should only have requested information sufficient to serve the defendants--the plaintiffs did not need the defendants email addresses or telephone numbers.

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