Court Dismisses BitTorrent Defendants Wrongly Joined in Copyright Infringement Action

A recent decision from a federal court in Missouri highlights some of the difficulties presented by mass copyright infringement litigation against BitTorrent users. The court held that the "joinder" of all defendants in a single lawsuit was not proper based on interests of fairness and judicial economy. The Rules of Civil Procedure allow joinder of multiple defendants in an action when the claims against them arise out of the same transaction or occurrence (or series of related transactions or occurrences) and when any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.

Though all defendants were accused of trading the same work in the same BitTorrent swarm, the court found joinder would make the case unmanageable and prejudicial.

The court recognized the substantial logistical issues that would arise with having many joined defendants. Looking to an earlier BitTorrent case before the same court, as well as decisions from other districts, the court noted the complexity with managing myriad issues such as wireless network security, personal responsibility, and the allegedly innocent account holder of a multi-unit property.

Moreover, the court found that forcing all defendants to litigate as a group would cause those defendants to suffer prejudice. Each would be required to serve documents on every other defendant -- a notable burden given that many would be pro se and not e-filers. Additionally, having each defendant at each others' deposition would be a "thoroughly unmanageable situation." Courtroom proceedings would be similarly unworkable, with all defendants present and each requiring his or her own "mini-trial."

The court found that in contrast to the unfairness posed to the defendants by joinder, the prejudice to plaintiff would be less burdensome. Plaintiff would be required to bring suit against the remaining defendants and pay a filing fee for each action, but "[t]he serious procedural, case management, and fairness concerns that arise in actions such as this outweigh any convenience and cost-savings on Plaintiff's part." Indeed, "payment of a separate filing fee for its claim against each Defendant properly balances the Plaintiff's right to protect its copyright with the Court's interest in cost-efficient adjudication of cases."

Purzel Video GMBH v. Does 1–67, 2013 WL 3941383 (E.D.Mo. July 31, 2013)