A federal judge in Dallas has rejected a lawsuit filed by Evan Stone on behalf of Larry Flint Publishing, claiming more than 1,000 unnamed individuals infringed the copyright on the adult flick “This Ain’t Avatar XXX.” Counsel in this case employed a strategy in which plaintiffs seek to join multiple, even myriad defendants in one mass complaint. This procedure has been attempted in a handful of copyright lawsuits across the country filed on behalf of independent film studios and X-rated filmmakers; these suits name thousands of defendants at once but also have not progressed far in the courts.
In the Texas case, a senior U.S. Judge ruled that claims against mass defendants must “arise out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences,” as required by Rule 20(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As each individual acted independently in allegedly pirating the motion pictures online, and they did not do so collectively in the same transaction, the suit could not proceed, the judge said.
The defendants, he said, engaged in “individual and continued use of BitTorrent software to reproduce and/or distribute Plaintiffs motion picture to hundreds of other BitTorrent users without the permission or consent of the plaintiff. ”
In short, he affirmed the law as discerned in an earlier West Virginia case: “merely committing the same type of violation in the same way does not link defendants together for purposes of joinder.”
If the Flynt folks now wish to pursue the numerous, unnamed defendants, they will need to chase them singularly and separately, filing far more costly, time consuming individual suits.
While this procedural issue has arisen for the moment chiefly with X-rated and independent films, it could create challenges for makor studios, video game-makers and the recording industry — all of which have relied on mass, John Doe legal crackdowns against those who they assert download their products and do so illegally. A Federal Computer Crimes blogger, saying the legal repercussions will be unsurprising, has speculated that more of the mass cases will fall.