A federal magistrate judge in South Dakota has denied an attempt by the producers of the Oscar-winning film "The Hurt Locker" to obtain the identities of 143 accused illegal file sharers from their Internet service provider.
The judge's decision last week however likely means only a temporary delay for Voltage Pictures, the independent studio which made "The Hurt Locker."
Voltage is one of more than a dozen indie studios that have hired the Washington, D.C., law firm of Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver to file copyright complaints against as many as 50,000 individuals they accuse of illegally sharing their movies. To file the suits, the law firm first obtains Internet protocol addresses of people sharing files. Then, the firm goes after the identities of those who own the IP addresses by subpoenaing records from Internet service providers.
Last month, Midcontinent Communications said no to Voltage. The ISP, which services areas in South and North Dakota and Minnesota, filed a motion to "quash" the subpoena it received from Voltage requesting information on the Midcontinent customers. The ISP argued that Voltage and Dunlap had not followed proper federal procedure by filing the subpoena with jurisdiction in South Dakota.
On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Simko, for the Southern District of South Dakota, agreed with Midcontinent's argument and granted its motion.
But Thomas Dunlap, one of the attorneys representing Voltage, said today that the holdup was a procedural technicality and his firm plans to obtain a subpoena in South Dakota soon. He said typically an ISP and his firm will talk by phone to work out any issues but Dunlap said Midcontinent didn't do that.
"This seems like an expensive way for [Midcontinent] to handle it but the issue is pretty minor," Dunlap said. "We will reproduce the subpoena in South Dakota and we will end up getting the information."
The litigation that Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver is leading has stunned file sharers all over the country. The practice of filing lawsuits was thought to be dead after the music industry stopped filing such complaints nearly two years ago. Executives from a group of indie studios told CNET this month that they are without a lot of options when it comes to defending their material against piracy and unauthorized file sharing.