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Patrick Collins, Inc., Civil Action v. John Does 1-11

January 31, 2013

JOHN DOES 1-11, 13-18, AND 20-23,*FN1 DEFENDANTS

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.


Plaintiff Patrick Collins, Inc., originally brought this action against twenty-three John Doe defendants alleging that they had infringed its copyright in the motion picture entitled "Busty Construction Girls" by reproducing and distributing it over the internet using a peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol called BitTorrent. The John Does are identified only by internet protocol ("IP") addresses corresponding to the internet connections alleged to have been used to infringe the plaintiff's copyright.

I granted the plaintiff's earlier motion for leave to file third-party subpoenas on the Internet Service Providers ("ISP") servicing the IP addresses identified in the complaint to help determine the identity of the defendants. The plaintiff reached a settlement with two of the defendants, and voluntarily dismissed its claims against them.

John Doe #13 filed a pro se "joint motion to sever defendants and/or quash the subpoena." Because the joinder of the John Doe defendants is proper and quashing the subpoena would be inappropriate at this time, I will deny the motion.


BitTorrent is one of the most common peer-to-peer file sharing protocols, i.e., set of computer rules, used for distributing large amounts of data. See Compl. ¶ 14. It has been estimated that users using the BitTorrent protocol on the internet account for over a quarter of all internet traffic. Id. Its popularity stems from its ability to distribute a large file without creating a heavy load on the source computer and network. To reduce the load on the source computer, the BitTorrent protocol allows users to join a "swarm" of host computers to download and upload from each other simultaneously. Id. at ¶ 15.

Here, it is alleged that each defendant installed a BitTorrent "Client" onto his computer. A "Client" is a software program that implements the BitTorrent protocol.

Id. at ¶¶ 16-17. Once installed, the BitTorrent Client serves as the user's interface during the process of uploading and downloading data using the BitTorrent protocol. Id. at ¶ 18. A BitTorrent user that wants to upload a new file, known as an "initial seeder," starts by creating a "torrent" descriptor file using the Client he installed onto his computer. The Client takes the target computer file, the "initial seed," here the "Busty Construction Girls" movie, and divides it into identically sized groups of bits known as "pieces." Id. at ¶¶ 19-20. The Client then gives each one of the pieces a random and unique alphanumeric identifier known as a "hash" and records these hash identifiers in the torrent file. When other users, known as "peers," receive a particular piece, the hash identifier for that piece is compared to the hash identifier recorded in the torrent file for that piece. Thus, the hash identifier works like an electronic fingerprint to identify the source of the piece and that the piece is authentic and uncorrupted. Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.

When peers download the torrent file, the BitTorrent protocol signals that those peers are seeking to download the original file, and the seeder begins to distribute pieces to those users. Once a peer has downloaded a piece, it serves as a source of that piece to other peers possessing the torrent and seeking to download the original file. When a peer has downloaded all of the pieces, the client program continues to distribute the file. In this way, the initial seeder and peers serve to share and distribute the original file in an activity known as a "swarm." See Compl. ¶¶29-32.


A. Motion to Sever

John Doe #13 argues that the plaintiff has improperly joined twenty-three defendants in this action because the defendants' involvement arose from distinctly separate transactions that involved separate sets of facts and defenses. Because there is no nexus between him and the other defendants, he requests that I "sever and dismiss all the defendants." I disagree and will deny his request.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2) permits joinder of numerous defendants in one action if "any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action." See FED.R.CIV.P. 20(a).

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has not directly interpreted Rule 20(a), but it has held that events comprising the same transaction or occurrence bear a "logical relationship" to one another and involve the same factual issues or the same factual and legal issues. Transamerica Occidental Life Ins. Co. v. Aviation Office of Am., Inc., 292 F.3d 384, 390 (3d Cir. 2002). Thus, the impulse under the Federal Rules is "toward entertaining the broadest possible scope of action consistent with fairness to the parties; joinder of claims, parties, and remedies is strongly encouraged." Hagan v. Rogers, 570 F.3d 146, 152 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 724 (1966)). Rule 20(a)'s purpose is to promote trial convenience and expedite the final determination of disputes, thereby preventing multiple ...

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