Have you received a document from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) telling you that they have been subpoenaed to provide Internet Protocol address (IP address)? Typically, these suits claim that a IP address associated with a John Doe defendant violated a copyright law by downloading pornographic material. The Plaintiff requests expedited discovery and then request the name and address from the ISP. The ISP typically sends a letter to a customer explaining that the information has been subpoenaed, and that they will have to turn over the information to the Plaintiff. The individual receiving all this information is typically shocked and horrified with their name being associated with the downloading of pornographic material. Critics of these types of suit, claim that this process is used to extort money from individuals just so that their name is not associated with the case. When hearing about these types of cases I had two reactions.
First, the IP address does not necessarily lead to the individual who violated the copyright. With the pervasive use of wireless routers (at different levels of security), the internet subscriber could not be the John Doe listed in the lawsuit. It could be anyone from a guest in the subscriber’s home, a teenage child of the subscriber, a neighbor, or even a perfect stranger who can access the wireless router from a car parked in the street, adjacent to the home. Therefore, it seems that the subpoena is not tailored to get information about the party liable for the infringing use.
Second, the lawsuit will typically name multiple John Does and claim that the joinder of all these parties together is proper because the case arises from the same occurrence or series of occurrences. These parties may be accused of downloading the file weeks or months apart. The John Does may never have been in contact with each other over the internet or even downloaded the same copy of the work.
Typically, the rights of an internet subscriber must be exercised in a relatively short period of time. Further, an individual should not contact opposing counsel directly, as that may lead to the disclosure of that individual’s identity.