The recent explosion of copyright trolling lawsuits (particularly filed by a new aggressive porn troll Strike 3 Holdings¹
) was possible in part because courts routinely rubberstamp ex-parte
discovery requests. It does not matter that foundations of such requests are flimsy at best, illegal
at worst. Since there is no meaningful opposition at the subpoena stage, judges don’t bother looking into the validity of the trolls’ claims and take false statements and fake declarations
for granted. As a result, requests to unmask alleged file-sharers are almost always granted.
Yet once in a while there is a judge who denies a discovery motion. The reasons vary: it can be a doubt of geolocation accuracy, finding that a plaintiff has no intention to litigate, concerns about abuse of process, or suspicious declarations, which a real estate agent from suburban Chicago signs by the truckload.
On 4/24/2018 Magistrate Judge Franklin Noel denied a discovery motion in Strike 3 Holdings v John Doe (MND 18-cv-00768) for yet another reason. Namely, he concluded that a defendants’ privacy interests trump copyright trolls’ need to learn the defendant’s identity:
Plaintiff’s ex parte motion illustrates an ongoing conflict between the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. § 512, the Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. § 551, and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45. At the heart of this conflict is whet her a copyright owner can use the federal judiciary to discover evidence about a potential, alleged infringer when the infringer’s actual identity is unknown.
You already guessed which statute Judge Noel thinks should prevail:
This Court concludes that the conflict between the statutes, DMCA and the Communications Act, compels it to deny Plaintiff’s instant ex parte motion. As the Eighth Circuit reasoned in In Re Charter Communications, when it held that DMCA did not authorize the subpoena the district court had issued, “it is the province of Congress, not the courts, to decide whether to rewrite DMCA ‘in order to make it fit a new and unforseen internet architecture.’” 393 F.3d at 777 (quoting Verizon, 351 F.3d at 1238).