Is it legal to sue thousands of alleged movie pirates in one lawsuit?

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Is it legal to sue thousands of alleged movie pirates in one lawsuit?

Mon Jun 21, 2010 @ 04:24PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Bens-join-or-die EXCLUSIVE: The lawyers targeting thousands of people who allegedly pirated "The Hurt Locker" and other films on BitTorrent are fighting to keep the litigation on track.

Earlier this month, federal judge Rosemary Collyer ordered the lawyers to give a compelling reason why joining thousands of individuals in a single lawsuit was proper procedure. Groups such as the ACLU and EFF had questioned whether the "joinder" of so many defendants from across the nation in a Washington courthouse was legitimate. Taking the issue into consideration, Judge Collyer pointed to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20 and asked the plaintiff to explain its joinder.

We scored a copy of the court papers that will be filed in response. Here's the relevant law on the subject:
Rule 20 states that "[p]ersons...may be joined in one action as defendants if..."

(A) they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and

(B) any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action.

In the statement to the court, the plaintiffs argue that civil procedure rules are intended to promote trial convenience and avoid multiple suits. The plaintiffs believe that misjoinder is not grounds for dismissing an action, only for removing parties. And since the court has discretion, it should consider whether doing so would result in undue delay.

There's also some discussion of how BitTorrent works, saying this case is "significantly different from the prior cases involving copyright infringement via P2P systems." 

The plaintiffs allege that every infringer is simultaneously stealing copyrighted material through collaboration with many other infringers. ("A series of transactions...") Further, plaintiffs allege identical claims against each of the defendants. ("A question of law or fact common...") The plaintiffs say the unique nature of BitTorrent causes a high level of interconnectedness that fulfills both prongs of Rule 20.

The response then goes into case law and argues that the plaintiffs have already met their threshold burden to obtain further evidence about anonymous defendants, but that allowing many defendants to escape the lawsuit would prejudice the plaintiffs because ISPs might not properly preserve evidence.

Here's the full statement of good cause on why plaintiffs believe they're entitled to join thousands of defendants into one massive copyright lawsuit.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to [email protected]

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