Thousands of defendants escape BitTorrent lawsuit

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A huge file-sharing legal case has been slashed in size, with over 4,400 defendants being let off the hook.

The US Copyright Group (USCG) originally cited 4,577 defendants who, it said, had illegally downloaded copies of the Achte/Neunte movie Far Cry.

But three weeks ago District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled that the defendants should be limited to those the court had jurisdiction over - in other words, only those defendants living in DC or with strong ties to the area.

And with the publication of USCG's amended complaint today, that turns out to mean just 140 defendants, of whom only one - Adrienne Neal - is named.

"The plaintiff’s counsel, Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver (DGW), had tried to argue (unconvincingly, in my opinion) that, because torrent swarms involve individuals from multiple states, that an infringement suit can be brought against all alleged file-sharers in any state where a defendant resides," says Stewart Keller, the California attorney representing several of the defendants. 

"Perhaps seeing the weakness of this argument, and not wanting to set a harmful precedent in parallel file sharing cases, DGW voluntarily let those non-DC defendants go, perhaps to re-file in their home states down the road."

Keller says he also suspects that many names were dropped because DGW contacted the defendants directly by letter, rather than through the law firm.

The cases have been dropped 'without prejudice', meaning that USCG still has the option of re-filing in different states. However, the amount of extra work - and costs - incolved in this may well make it unviable.

The decision could have implications for the many other torrent lawsuits currently under consideration, making them look a far less profitable punt for lawyers and copyright holders.