Voltage Pictures, the Plaintiff in several Oregon download cases, has met a roadblock in Ohio federal court in the form of Judge James S. Gwin. Judge Gwin ordered, sua sponte, that Voltage Pictures had improperly joined hundreds of Defendants. The Judge has severed the cases, requiring Voltage to pay appropriate filing fees in order to continue. Here are some highlights and the full Opinion & Order is below:

Because IP addresses are the only identifiers of peers within a BitTorrent system, it is difficult, if not impossible, to learn the true identities of the peers in a swarm.21 To pursue litigation, plaintiffs in BitTorrent suits must attempt to get early discovery to learn of the actual identities of the unnamed defendants.22 The requests have been the subject of much criticism, for the lawsuits are rarely litigated. Rather, plaintiffs seek to take advantage of the resources of federal courts to force small, individual settlements.23

Courts have been troubled by what amounts to be a new business model employed by production companies “misusing the subpoena powers of the court, seeking the identities of the Doe defendants solely to facilitate demand letters and  coerce settlement, rather than ultimately serve process and litigate the claims.”41 This unseemly practice is made worse by the frequent practice of joining hundreds or thousands of defendants in a suit, saving plaintiffs tens of thousands of dollars in filing fees. It is in this environment where courts must take every caution to ensure that the keys to the doors of discovery are not blithely given to parties with other intentions.

Regardless of the dubious practices of others, Plaintiffs may have legitimate claims which deserve litigation. Nevertheless, unnamed Defendants are improperly joined, and in order to continue with their actions, Plaintiffs will need to pay the requisite filing fee per suit.42 Otherwise, Plaintiff has saved over $67,500 by consolidating its claims into four separate actions. If Plaintiffs seek to use the powers of this Court to vindicate its rights, it must pay the requisite fees like every other Plaintiff.

Time will tell if Oregon will make a similar ruling, which essentially shifts some of the financial burden for these download cases from the taxpayer to the Plaintiff.

Opinion & Order, James S. Gwin, United States District Judge: