According to a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York last month, a lawsuit against hundreds of defendants who allegedly engaged in infringing activity when they shared adult entertainment film files through peer-to-peer networks will proceed. In re Adult Film Copyright Infringement Litigation¸ No. 11 Civ. 7564 (March 26, 2012).

The plaintiffs in that case are owners of copyrights or the exclusive rights to various adult-entertainment films. They are alleging that the defendants, who remain unnamed (“John Doe defendants”), infringed on the plaintiffs’ copyrights by duplicating and distributing their copyrighted films through file-sharing software. The Court had previously consolidated the actions, allowing the plaintiffs to join the defendants and sue them as one group.

Four defendants filed a motion to dismiss or sever the various claims against them. Their basis was that joining them in the same case was improper under the standard set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2). That Rule sets forth the following standard for permissive joinder of defendants:

1)      any right to relief is asserted against them jointly severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and

2)      any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.

F.R.C.P. 20(a)(2).

The Court disagreed. It determined that joinder was appropriate, finding that the plaintiffs’ allegation met the requirements of both a common transaction or occurrence and common question of law or fact. First, the plaintiffs alleged that the Doe defendants traded not only the same film, but the same exact file of the copyrighted work. The Court found that this alleged sharing – through a “peer-to-peer network” that uses “swarm” system to distribute to network users – was sufficient to assert a common transaction or occurrence. Second, the Court found that there were common questions of law because the allegations against each Doe defendant are identical. The Court dismissed the motions without prejudice. (The Court also noted that severance, not dismissal, would be the appropriate remedy for misjoinder. F.R.C.P. 20, 21.)

The case will now move forward with the plaintiffs’ claims for copyright infringement pursuant to the U.S. Copyright Act. 17 U.S.C. §§101.


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