Blog of Rights

Megalawsuit Against BitTorrent Users Threatens Due Process

By Rachel Myers, ACLU at 4:56pm

Time Warner Cable recently asked a federal court to quash subpoenas it received seeking the identities of thousands of its customers. The subpoenas came as part of several lawsuits filed by members of the movie industry who allege the individuals downloaded certain movies using BitTorrent.

The lawsuits were all filed by the Washington, D.C., law firm "U.S. Copyright Group" (USCG). Six virtually identical lawsuits have been filed already in D.C. implicating thousands of individuals, and numerous subpoenas have been issued to Internet service providers (ISPs) seeking the names and addresses of users who allegedly downloaded certain movies. Several ISPs have complied, but Time Warner Cable moved to quash the three subpoenas it received.

In friend-of-the-court briefs we filed last night along with the ACLU of the Nation's Capital, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Citizen in support of Time Warner, we argue that the lawsuits improperly join thousands of unrelated defendants into a single action and were filed in a jurisdiction where few, if any, of the defendants reside (in fact, it seems none of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits live in D.C. either).

We also argue that members of the movie industry cannot just demand information about anonymous individuals without showing sufficient reason to believe the individuals did anything wrong, and without giving them a chance to defend themselves.

Just as in the music industry lawsuits of several years ago, these movie industry lawsuits cut corners and undermine due process by lumping many users into one lawsuit.

As ACLU attorney Aden Fine said in a press release today:

Members of the movie industry have the right to challenge alleged copyright infringement, but they must do so in a way that upholds the law and individuals' due process rights. Lumping thousands of unconnected individuals into a few cases in a court far from where they live, without providing them adequate notice and a real opportunity to challenge the subpoenas, is not that way.
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