Arista Records v Doe 3

Case: Arista Records, LLC v. Doe 3

Citation: 2010 WL 1729107

Facts: Plaintiff is a recording company, while defendants are Internet users known only by their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. Defendants downloaded and/or distributed to the public various music recordings through an online file-sharing network. The defendants all used a common Internet Service Provider (ISP) through the State University of New York — Albany (SUNYA). In July of 2008, a private investigator hired by plaintiff discovered numerous file-sharing folders on multiple defendants' peer-to-peer networks which contained music files copyrighted by plaintiff. Plaintiff then commenced this action for copyright infringement against 16 unnamed defendants (Does).

Procedural Posture: Plaintiff asked for a subpoena from the Federal Court in the Northern District of New York to serve on SUNYA so as to identify the defendants. The court required SUNYA to notify each Defendant that it intends to disclose the requested ISP identifying information to Plaintiff. Plaintiffs thereafter voluntarily dismissed the action against most defendants, but not against Doe 3. The remaining defendants moved to quash the subpoena or, in the alternative, to have the court order a severance requiring that each defendant be sued separately. Defendants argued that the First Amendment affords a qualified right to use the Internet anonymously. The District Court denied the motion and defendant appealed.

Holding: Affirmed. For the Plaintiff.

The defendants had argued for a heightened pleading standard by citing Bell Atlantic v. Twombley. They asked for each defendant to be identified with particularity. They also argued that the claim failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, because the complaint failed to "allege any actual distribution of song files to the public.” Specifically, Doe 3 argued that the complaint did not state a claim sufficient to overcome his First Amendment privilege of anonymity.

The Court held that the District judge did not err when dismissing the motion to quash the subpoena, stating that "fundamental copyright principles are clear." It cited an important Cyberlaw case — A&M Records v. Napster, stating that “The word ‘copying’ is shorthand for the infringing of any of the copyright owner's five exclusive rights.” 239 F.3d 1004, 1013 (9th Cir.2001). The Court further held that Doe 3 could be found to have contributorily infringed on Arista's exclusive right to distribute the materials. While recognizing the First Amendment's right to anonymity, the Court nevertheless held that this does not provide a license for copyright infringement. (“Parties may not use the First Amendment to encroach upon the intellectual property rights of others.”) Sony Music 326 F.Supp.2d. at 563.

Critical Analysis: The holding of this case reinforces the notion that peer-to-peer file sharers may not use the First Amendment to defend against a claim of copyright infringement — at least as far as anonymity is concerned. Doe 3's expectation of privacy for sharing copyrighted music through an online file-sharing network was simply insufficient to permit him to avoid having to defend against a claim of copyright infringement. Furthermore, an expectation of privacy has no merit where infringement takes place.
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