A case about identifying people who download music through P2P sharing websites in violation of copyright laws. Cases of Interest >  Cyberlaw >  Privacy

Elektra Entertainment Group, Inc v Does 1-9

Name: Elektra Entertainment Group, Inc. v. Does 1-9

Citation: 2004 WL 2095581

Court: Southern District of New York

Procedural Posture: Plaintiffs filed their complaint, but did not have the actual identity of any of the defendants. The defendants were all students at NYU and, while their identities were unknown, the plaintiffs knew their IP addresses. Defendant number 7 filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. NYU stated that it would not produce the actual identities of the IP addresses until this motion to dismiss was resolved.

Overview: Plaintiffs are a large number of large record labels who claim defendants infringed on copyrights to numerous songs owned by plaintiffs. The defendants were students at New York University (NYU). The plaintiffs knew the IP addresses of the defendants, although the actual identities were known only to NYU. Defendant “John Doe” number 7 was a user of Kazaa, a music sharing service, who allegedly traded songs in Fast Track, a peer-to-peer network accessed by Kazaa.
Defendant 7 claimed that the First Amendment protects the right to speak and use the Internet anonymously, and that he had a qualified privilege to remain anonymous, and that the plaintiff’s allegations are insufficient to overcome the privilege.
Defendant also claimed that there was no jurisdiction, and that a joinder of all the defendants was improper, although these were not the main thrust of the motion to dismiss.

Background and Description: An IP address is a 10-digit number that identifies a particular computer on the internet. Plaintiffs, using the IP addresses of defendants, determined the defendants were students at NYU. NYU’s “Guidelines for Compliance With the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act” stated that NYU would release identifying information about a student, without the student’s consent, in response to a civil subpoena.

Holding: The court decided to use the same analysis adopted in Sony Music Entertainment Inc. v. Does 1-40, 2004 WL 1656538. Sony recognized that “the First Amendment protects anonymous speech,” and even extends to the internet. However, the First Amendment has limits, and does not protect copyright infringement. Sony recognized that the use of a P2P file to download music qualifies as speech, but only to a degree. However, the person’s real purpose is not to communicate a thought or convey an idea, but merely to obtain music for free.
However, even though file sharing qualifies as speech for First Amendment purposes, it is not granted the broadest protection afforded to political speech. To consider whether the defendant’s identities in Sony were protected from disclosure, the judge considered five factors: 1) whether plaintiffs have made “a concrete showing of a prima facie claim of actionable harm”; 2) the “specificity of the discovery request”; 3) “the absence of alternative means to obtain the subpoenaed information”; 4) “a central need to obtain the subpoenaed information to advance the claim”; and 5) “the party's expectation of privacy.”
Each factor favors the disclosure of the defendant’s identities: Plaintiffs mad a prima facie claim and have demonstrated with specificity their discovery request. The plaintiffs exhausted any alternative means to discover the defendant’s identities. Without the identities the claim could not be advanced, Finally, defendants only have a minimal expectation of privacy when they download and distribute copyrighted information without permission.
The court also found that defendant’s jurisdiction claim was premature because there was not enough information before the court. The court however did find that defendant’s improper joinder allegation was proper because the different claims against the defendants would require different witnesses, different evidence, and different legal theories and defenses.

Other Discussion: This case represents a strong decision for record labels attempting to protect copyrighted music from internet P2P trading.

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