May Copyright Infringement Suits Allow the Use of Blanket Subpoenas to Identify Anonymous Users of Potentially Infringing Internet Content? Originally Published Jan 28, 2014

Is it abusive for a company alleging copyright infringement to uncloak the anonymity of users of adult content in an effort to embarrass them into settling marginal claims? That issue was considered by the Court in Amselfilm Productions v. Swarm, 6A6DC, 12-cv-3865.
In that case, the plaintiff clearly was the object of infringing conduct by persons using BitTorrent – a peer to peer method of sharing content anonymously. The only question was whether the plaintiff could issue blanket subpoenas to obtain the IP addresses of the groups (“swarms”) of BitTorrent users and then coerce these individuals to obtain individual settlements with them. The implication was that if these individuals did not settle, their names would be made public, causing embarrassment over the fact that they potentially had downloaded adult content. This became a particularly important issue because so many of the claims of infringement were relatively unsubstantiated, i.e., how does one prove that any one individual within the larger “swarm” specifically downloaded specific content on a specific day?
The Court found that this was a misuse of legal process and procedure and prohibited employing such subpoenas without more of a showing of a particularized set of circumstances. In other words, there would have to be some level of demonstration suggesting that a particular individual had downloaded specific infringing content.
This case is one of many throughout the U.S. in which the practice of issuing blanket subpoenas successfully has been challenged.
 
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