Over 5,000 John Doe Defendants unsuccessfully sought to quash subpoenas issued to Internet Service Providers ("ISPs") by Plaintiff West Coast Productions to learn the identity of the Defendants known in the Complaint only by their internet protocol ("IP") addresses. West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-5829, Civ. Action No. 11-57 (CKK), 2011 WL 2292239 (D.D.C. June 10, 2011). The District Court for the District of Columbia held that the Defendants failed to show that their privacy interests outweighed the Plaintiff's need to obtain their identifying information to pursue its copyright claims.
Acknowledging the public interest in open judicial proceedings and the "common law right of access to judicial records," the Court stated that litigants may overcome those interests "only under certain special circumstances when anonymity is necessary to protect a person from harassment, injury, ridicule, or personal embarrassment." In this case, the Defendants sought to maintain their anonymity to avoid potential liability for West Coast's copyright infringement claims. In determining whether to grant the Defendants this "'rare dispensation'of anonymity," the Court noted that it has been widely "held that the privacy interest in such identifying information is minimal and not significant enough to warrant the special dispensation of anonymous filing." Accordingly, the Court denied the Defendants' motion to proceed anonymously in the action.
In support of their motions to quash the subpoenas, the Defendants unsuccessfully asserted a variety of arguments. Several Defendants invoked their First Amendment privacy right as a barrier to divulging their contact information. The Court quickly dismissed these arguments noting that "a defendant's First Amendment privacy interests are exceedingly small where the 'speech' at issue is the alleged infringement of copyrights." Next, Defendants tried to assert their innocence by arguing that the subpoenas should be quashed because their IP addresses were used by a third party without their knowledge, possibly as a result of unsecured wireless connections. This argument similarly failed because it prematurely addressed the merits of the case and failed to provide any grounds for quashing a subpoena pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 45.
Taking an alternate approach, many Defendants sought, in the alternative, dismissal of the claims set forth in the Complaint based on a lack of personal jurisdiction. Finding these arguments premature, the Court noted that as a "threshold defense," the Court cannot rule on personal jurisdiction until the Complaint has been served and a response has been filed. Because the Plaintiff had yet to name and serve the John Doe Defendants, the Court held that it was "premature to evaluate their jurisdictional defenses."
Finally, the Defendants argued that the subpoenas should be quashed because the Plaintiff improperly joined the John Doe Defendants in a single action. Applying the well-settled principles of permissive joinder, the Court found that the allegations in the Complaint arose out of the same transaction or occurrence because each of the Defendants "were sharing Plaintiff's copyrighted film with one another via the BitTorrent protocol," thus establishing the first prong of permissible joinder. The second requirement, that there be common questions or law or fact, was "easily met because the claims asserted against each John Doe Defendant are identical." Further noting that joinder of all claims would promote judicial efficiency, the Court declined to quash the subpoenas or sever the claims based on misjoinder.