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Brooklyn Pro Se Project Sees Uptick in Torrenting Lawsuits

by Dylan Lee, Project Coordinator December 4, 2018

The City Bar Justice Center’s Pro Se Legal Assistance Project has seen an uptick in torrenting lawsuits filed against pro se defendants in federal court over the past year. “Torrenting” is the process of downloading files in many pieces from peers around the world. Applications such as BitTorrent allow users to download thousands of pieces of data from other users whose computers are online at the same time.  As the small pieces of data collect in the downloader’s computer, the torrenting application composes them into a full movie, song, or other content. Representative torrenting lawsuits in federal court are brought by media companies against defendant downloaders for allegedly downloading copyrighted content without paying for a license.

“Our Project typically sees pro se defendants after they’ve received notice of a subpoena from the ISP,” said Cat Itaya, Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Pro Se Project in the Eastern District of New York.  A media company initiates the lawsuit by suing a “John Doe” internet provider (“IP”) address associated with downloading the company’s content. The court often grants limited discovery to the media company to subpoena the internet service provider (“ISP”) for the name and contact information of the customer on the IP account. The notice of subpoena from the ISP to its customer is usually the first time a pro se defendant learns that he has been sued.

Once the IP address is connected with the customer’s identity, the media company substitutes the customer as a named defendant. The case then resumes the course of a typical civil litigation, with the media company serving the Complaint and Summons on the defendant downloader, and the defendant is then responsible for responding to the Complaint, either by filing an Answer or a Motion to Dismiss.

In Brooklyn federal court, the Pro Se Project has offered limited-scope assistance to pro se defendants facing hefty damages. “One pro se defendant was sued for damages totaling $150,000,” said Itaya. The lawsuits, regardless of the damages amount, should not be ignored, Itaya advised. “We suggest that anyone who receives notice of a subpoena from their ISP should contact a lawyer for legal advice,” Itaya said. “It is a good idea to get expert advice tailored to your circumstances, so that you understand what your options and legal obligations are.”

For attorney referrals, you may call the New York City Bar Association’s Legal Referral Service at 917-983-2872.

For more information about the City Bar Justice Center’s Pro Se Project in the E.D.N.Y., visit our page.  Pro se litigants interested in the Project’s limited-scope legal service model should call (212) 382-4729 for assistance.

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