What are “John Doe” Lawsuits?
John Doe lawsuits are those that are filed against a defendant whose identity is unknown. These types of lawsuits are commonly associated with copyright infringement cases but have also been filed for other matters such as defamation and extortion.
What Is an IP Address?
An IP (Internet Protocol) address is a unique string of numbers that is used to identify a computer or device that is connected to the internet. A computer or device is not permanently linked to one IP address, and it can change by actions such as connecting to a different Wi-Fi network. IP addresses are maintained and assigned by internet service providers, such as AT&T or Verizon.
How Can Your Identity Be Discovered?
A common method that an owner of copyrighted material uses to identify an infringing party is tracking down an IP address that was engaged in activity such as the unauthorized downloading or streaming of the material. This process can be difficult because IP address logs are periodically deleted by internet service providers. Therefore, a plaintiff must act quickly to locate the IP address. Once it is found, the plaintiff will issue a subpoena on the internet service provider to which the IP address is assigned. A subpoena compels an individual to provide testimony or information about a particular subject. In a John Doe lawsuit, the plaintiff typically demands in the subpoena that the internet service provider release the name of the account holder linked to the IP address that was used to unlawfully access the copyrighted material.
Can Your Identity be Kept Private in a John Doe Lawsuit?
To prevent your internet service provider from disclosing your name as the defendant, you may file an “opposition” with the court that is known as a “motion to quash.” A motion to quash requests that a court not enforce a court order, like a subpoena, or declare it invalid. For example, a motion to quash can claim that the subpoena is invalid because the federal court that authorized the subpoena does not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant. This may occur if the defendant does not live in the state in which he was sued. Alternatively, a motion to quash may also argue that a subpoena is invalid because the plaintiff’s complaint fails to provide sufficient evidence for a legitimate copyright infringement claim. Accordingly, a defendant in a John Doe lawsuit may have a few options other than having his identity released or settling for a large amount of money to circumvent the lawsuit.