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Time Warner Must Provide Names of Illegal File-Sharers

Judge rejects arguments that disclosing personal information of customer violates privacy rights

Last Updated: March 24, 2011 @ 9:44 AM

Time Warner Inc. must provide customer names that three filmmakers claim illegally shared movies with each other, a U.S. District Court judge ruled on Wednesday.

D.C. Judge Beryl A. Howell rejected arguments by the conglomerate as well as a jointly submitted briefs from consumer advocacy groups that said Time Warner should not be required to disclose the identity of 1,028 of its subscribers. 

The plaintifs in the individal cases include Call of the Wild Movie, LLC; Maverick Entertainment Group; and Donkeyball Movie, LLC.

In three separate cases, plaintifs allege that more than 5,000 individuals have illegally shared movies, including "Call of the Wild," "Bordertown" and "Familiar Strangers" through the file sharing software BitTorrent.

Upon securing the IP address of each potential defendant, the plaintiffs requested that Time Warner, as well as other Internet service providers, provide names, current and permanent addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses.

Howell rejected the consumer groups' arguments that identifying the individuals violated subscriber's First Amendment rights to “anonymous publication of expressive works on the Internet” as well as their right to privacy.

”The First Amendment interest implicated by their activity, however, is minimal given that file-sharers’ ultimate aim “is not to communicate a thought or convey an idea” but to obtain movies and music for free,” Howell wrote in her opinion.

With respect to privacy, Howell said that based upon Time Warner’s privacy notice, the expectation is minimal.

"Time Warner’s privacy notice also explicitly informs customers that their information could be disclosed upon court order. Thus, under these circumstances, the putative defendants have little to no expectation of privacy while engaging in allegedly infringing activities about which they are warned against," Howell wrote. 

The court granted Time Warner’s request to quash the subpoena from Maverick Entertainment Group, because instead of hand delivering the legal document, Maverick transmitted the subpoena via fax and as an email attachment. The court, however, will permit Maverick to reissue the subpoena.