updated 10:55 am EDT, Fri March 25, 2011
Judge allows controversial measure to proceed
DC-based US Copyright Group has won a ruling that will allow it to proceed in a case against thousands of people alleged to have shared files illegally. The decision by Federal Judge Beryl Howell will require ISPs to turn over the identities of thousands of users who have engaged in P2P file sharing. This is the first time that a subpoena for the identities of thousands of people alleged to have shared files illegally has been granted.
Until now, subpoenas for the identities of thousands of users had been denied because judges found such requests "improperly joined," meaning the plaintiff has to show that the users were engaged in a collaborative effort. Plaintiffs also usually need to demonstrate that the defendants live in the Federal court district where the suit is filed. In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union and other free-speech groups have argued against mass subpoenas, claiming that users are protected by their constitutional right to anonymous speech.
Judge Howard found that the alleged infractions were "logically" related. Requiring copyright holders to pursue each infraction individually would be prohibitively expensive and “further limit their ability to protect their legal rights.” The judge ruled that the jurisdictional issues could be addressed once the identities of the users were known. The judge also found the defendants' free speech and privacy rights in this instance were outweighed by the compelling reasons for the copyright holders to seek their identities.
While this ruling is a victory for US Copyright Group and its clients, the judge left open the possibility that fully resolving the issue of copyright infringement might require thousands of individual lawsuits and take years to conclude. [via Ars Technica]