Friday, January 13, 2012

John Does, ISPs and File-Sharing Lawsuits

Dear Rich: What does it mean to get a notice from an ISP saying that you've been named as a John Doe in a copyright lawsuit? Does that mean you've been sued or not?  In court proceedings, the names John Doe or Jane Doe -- or John or Jane Roe --  are used as legal placeholders (scroll down) for various reasons. Sometimes they are used to protect the identity of the person bringing the lawsuit -- for example,  as in the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade. In copyright litigation, Doe defendants are commonly used because the copyright owner wants to file the lawsuit but doesn't know the identity of all the parties. For example, if a record company wants to pursue various file-sharing infringers, they may only have the IP addresses of the computers but not the names of the people who own those computers. The copyright owner files the lawsuit naming "DOES 1 to 100," and then seeks the identities of the Doe defendants from the Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISP then notifies the individual users and usually informs the user that the ISP will reveal the identity as required under the user agreement, or per a court order, or subpoena. In order to enforce the claim or judgment against you, the copyright owner will eventually have to swap your name in for one of the John Does. Until that happens, you're not "officially" in the lawsuit. But that doesn't mean you're off the hook. If you got a notice from your ISP, you should review this article, and consider consulting an attorney promptly. If you don't do anything, the copyright owner may obtain your identity, and then obtain a default judgment against you. That could be painful.