U.S. District Court Dismisses Copyright Infringement Claims Against 244 Users of BitTorrent File Sharing Protocol

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed claims by a film copyright owner against 244 “John Doe” defendants who allegedly uploaded and downloaded on the Internet digital copies of the film while using the BitTorrent peer-to-peer client sharing protocol. Digital Sins, Inc. v. Doe, No. 1:11-cv-08170-CM (S.D. N.Y. May 15, 2012).

The plaintiff, Digital Sins, Inc., sued in a single civil action 245 unknown individuals who allegedly formed part of a “swarm”–a collection of users who used BitTorrent simultaneously to share the same file without authorization. Rule 20(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits, but does not require, joinder of multiple defendants in a single action when a plaintiff’s right to relief “is asserted against [the defendants] jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of occurrences.” According to the court,

… the fact that a large number of people use the same method to violate the law does not authorize them to be joined as defendants in a single lawsuit…. [W]hat we have here is 245 separate and discrete transactions in which 245 individuals used the same method to access a file via the Internet–no concerted action whatever, and no series of related occurrences–at least, not related in any way except the method that was allegedly used to violate the law.

Finding that “joinder was impermissible in this action,” the court severed and dismissed without prejudice all of the plaintiff’s claims except those against the first John Doe defendant.

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