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Arista Records LLC v. Does 1-16

February 18, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Randolph F. Treece United States Magistrate Judge


A federation of recording companies have filed a Complaint alleging that sixteen unidentified Defendants (Does 1-16)*fn1 committed copyright infringement by illegally downloading and distributing Plaintiffs' copyrighted music. Dkt. No. 1, Compl. Concomitantly, on July 17, 2008, Plaintiffs filed an ex parte Motion for leave to take immediate discovery in order to identify the Doe Defendants. Dkt. No. 4, Pls.' Mot. The Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Expedited Discovery and gave permission to serve a FED. R. CIV. P. 45 Subpoena upon the State University of New York at Albany (SUNYA) seeking information sufficient to identify each Doe Defendant, which may include their name, school address, permanent home address, telephone number, e-mail address, and media access control (MAC) addresses. Dkt. No. 5 at p. 2.

Presently before the Court is Doe Defendants' Motion to Quash the Subpoena. Dkt. Nos. 24, Defs.' Mot. to Quash, 25, Richard A. Altman, Esq., Decl., dated Oct. 6, 2008, & 26, Mem. of Law.*fn2 Plaintiffs filed a Response in opposition to Defendants' Motion. Dkt. No. 27. Both parties sought permission to submit further responses. Doe Defendants filed a Reply Memorandum of Law, Dkt. No. 32, and Plaintiffs filed a Sur-Reply Memorandum of Law, Dkt. No. 37.


The thirteen Plaintiffs assert that at all times they were the copyright owners or licensees of exclusive rights to certain sound recordings under the United States copyright laws. Compl. at ¶ 20. Those exclusive rights include the right to reproduce and distribute the copyrighted recordings to the public. Id. at ¶ 21. Plaintiffs allege that each Defendant, who were, at all relevant times, students of SUNYA, "without the permission or consent of Plaintiffs, has continuously used, and continue to use, an online media distribution system to download and/or distribute to the public certain of the Copyrighted Recordings." Id. at ¶ 22. Plaintiffs further allege that each Defendant wilfully, intentionally, and in disregard of Plaintiffs' rights infringed Plaintiffs' copyright and exclusive rights to copyright. Id. at ¶ 25. Attached to the Complaint are sixteen schedules, which identify each Internet Protocol address (IP), the type of Peer-to-Peer (P2P)*fn3 Network used by each prospective defendant, and specific downloads uploaded from each of the IP addresses. Id., Ex. A.

Submitted in support of Plaintiffs' ex parte Motion for Expedited Discovery was a Declaration from Carlos Linares, an attorney and Vice President for the Recording Industry Association of America, Inc. (RIAA).*fn4 Dkt. No. 4-2, Carlos Linares Decl., dated July 8, 2008. Peer-to-Peer network systems enable Internet users, among other things, to: (1) index files into shared directories on a specific computer that can be searched for and transferred to other users; (2) search for files stored on other users' computers; (3) transfer exact copies of files from one computer to another via the Internet; and (4) allow users to further distribute the files to other users. Id. at ¶ 7. In order to detect which Internet user may be infringing copyrighted recordings, RIAA hired MediaSentry, Inc. (MediaSentry) to conduct searches of the Internet, as well as file-copying services, for infringing duplicators of copyrighted sound recordings. MediaSentry is able to identify by IP address, which are unique in and of themselves, a user of P2P networks who is distributing or sharing music files over the network. Once a possible infringer is located, Media Sentry downloads music files from the user's computer that is being offered to others on the P2P network and listens to the downloaded recordings to determine if they are in fact copyrighted. Based upon that review, RIAA and MediaSentry then determine whether a possible infringement has occurred.

Id. at ¶¶ 11-15.

That user's IP address is connected to another network that is administered by an Internet Service Provider (ISP), such as a college or university, and that network maintains a log of IP address allocations. Id. Even though MediaSentry may have identified an alleged infringer's IP address, there is no other way to identify the individual without seeking information directly from the network administrator and, for that reason, recording companies use the subpoena process to obtain the names of possible defendants from the ISP. Id. at ¶ 16. In our case, RIAA has collected from each Doe Defendant a list of files that each Defendant was distributing to the public. Id. at ¶ 19; Compl. at Ex. A.

On July 22, 2008, The Court granted Plaintiffs permission to seek discovery from SUNYA. Dkt. No. 5. We directed SUNYA to notify each the Doe Defendant that it intends to disclose the requested IP identifying information to Plaintiffs and provide each with a copy of the Subpoena, with the expectation that both SUNYA and Doe Defendants could move to quash the Subpoena. Id. Apparently, SUNYA notified each of the sixteen Doe Defendants, because four have responded and seek to quash the Subpoena, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 45(c)(3)(A). Dkt. No. 24. In challenging the Subpoena, the Doe Defendants raise that (1) the Subpoena is an infringement of their First Amendment Rights, (2) the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them, (3) the Complaint fails to state a cause of action; and, (4) the joinder of all Doe Defendants into this single action is improper. Dkt. No. 25, Altman Decl.


A. Failure to State a Cause of Action

Section 106 of the Copyright Act confers a "bundle of exclusive rights to the owner of the copyright," those rights being the right "to publish, copy, and distribute." Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. 539, 547 (1985); 17 U.S.C. §§ 106(1) & (3). In order to make a claim of copyright infringement, a plaintiff must allege (1) ownership of a valid copyright and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original. Feist Publ'n, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361 (1991) (citing Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. at 548).

Without the Doe Defendants exactly conceding that Plaintiffs are the rightful owners of the Copyrighted recordings listed on Exhibit A of the Complaint, apparently the ownership element is not being contested. Nonetheless, the Doe Defendants argue that the Complaint fails to state a cause of action, primarily because the Complaint does not specifically plead facts alleging that the Doe Defendants "actually distributed" copyrighted recordings. It is their considered view that the United States Supreme Court in Bell Atlantic v. Trombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), set a new heightened pleading standard.*fn5 Because of this purportedly enhanced pleading requirement, they argue that Plaintiffs must do more than merely plead, based upon information and belief, that each Defendant used an online media distribution system to download and/or distribute to the public certain copyrighted recordings. In a nutshell, by raising that the Complaint does not set forth specific facts to support a copyright infringement cause of action, the Doe Defendants are indirectly, and maybe prematurely, seeking a motion to dismiss the Complaint, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6), without first being designated an actual party to this litigation. The Court does not know of any procedure which would allow prospective parties the right to move to ...

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