Infringement action against eDonkey user will proceed toward trial

In a copyright infringement action pending in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the court has refused to grant Paramount Pictures’ motion for summary judgment. Defendant John Davis has been accused of being the “first propagator” – that is, the first person to offer illegal copies for P2P distribution – of last year’s movie “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

The court determined that several material issues of fact remained, thus precluding summary judgment. The court ruled that Davis should be allowed to present evidence at trial as to, among other things, whether he was properly identified as the person engaging in infringing activity over the eDonkey network, and whether he was indeed the “first propagator.”

The court put forth a significant amount of effort analyzing Paramount’s claim that Davis should be sanctioned for reformatting his hard drive just a few days after receiving notice of the potential lawsuit against him. Because of this activity, all evidence of whether eDonkey or a copy of the Lemony Snicket movie were ever on Davis’ computer was lost. The court found that given the circumstances, Davis should have known to keep this evidence intact. The court also determined that this “spoliation” of relevant evidence caused significant prejudice to Paramount, resulting in substantial unfairness and the need to deter such conduct in the future. Although the court denied Paramount’s request to enter judgment in its favor because of the spoliation, the court stated that it would consider the deletion of the information in weighing Davis’ liability at trial.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this opinion lies not in the legal analysis, but in the detailed explanation by the court of the process by which Paramount monitors file sharing networks to determine whether any copyrighted works are being infringed. There is also a detailed description of the forensics involved in identifying “first propagators.” Anyone interested in the detective work that goes on prior to file-sharing lawsuits would find this case particularly interesting.

Paramount Pictures Corp. v. Davis, 2005 WL 3303861, (E.D. Pa., December 2, 2005).