(CN) - A movie distributor can subpoena Internet service providers to identify 2,177 people who allegedly pirated the company's film "Cornered!," a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled.
"Courts have broad discretion in discovery matters and, pursuant to that discretion, may allow parties to conduct expedited discovery where 'good cause' is shown," U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote. "Because defendants must be identified before this suit can progress further, the court finds that good cause exists for plaintiff's requested discovery."
Under the ruling, Cornered Inc. can give Internet service providers the IP addresses that it has linked to pirated copies of its film, and the ISPs must turn over the names, addresses and phone numbers of the as-yet-unnamed defendants.
Cornered filed the copyright infringement action in August, claiming that Internet users transferred illegal copies of the 2009 slasher film "Cornered!" through BitTorrent protocol.
Thomas Dunlap with Dunlap Grubb said Cornered is one of about a dozen film companies that his firm represents, and that the creators of Academy Award-winning "The Hurt Locker" joined that roster this summer.
He said he expects the ISPs to comply with Kollar-Kotelly's order, estimating that only one in 50 of the smaller ISPs object to turning over data on IP users.
"We've been working with all the big ones anyway on all the other films," Dunlap said. "We have arrangements with most of them."
When users download a torrent file, they become a source for future downloads and are as responsible for illegal copies of the film as the original user that posted the copyrighted content, Cornered claims. The company adds that identifying users from their IP addresses will lead Cornered to people in different jurisdictions around the country.
"A defendant's distribution of even one unlawful copy of a motion picture can result in the nearly instantaneous worldwide distribution of that single copy to a limitless number of people," according to the complaint
Earlier this year, an Australian court ruled that ISPs do not have to act on copyright infringement notices, which film companies send, asking that the servers disconnect alleged file-sharers.
"The evidence establishes that copyright infringement of the applicants' films is occurring on a large scale, and I infer that such infringements are occurring worldwide," Judge Dennis Cowdroy wrote in a summary of his 200-page ruling for the Australian Federal Court. "However, such fact does not necessitate or compel, and can never necessitate or compel, a finding of authorisation, merely because it is felt that 'something must be done' to stop the infringements. ... The law recognises no positive obligation on any person to protect the copyright of another."
In May, Time Warner Cable balked at orders to identify so-called pirates, claiming that complying with subpoenas for thousands of users would require months of full-time work. The company agreed to only provide information on 28 IP addresses per month.
"For whatever it's worth, we've dealt with Time Warner," Dunlap said. "We haven't taken issue with it yet because we have so many ISPs that are providing us with data."