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Signature Management Team, LLC v. Doe

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

November 28, 2017

Signature Management Team, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
John Doe, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued: April 27, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Ann Arbor. No. 5:13-cv-14005-Judith E. Levy, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Michael A. Sneyd, KERR, RUSSELL AND WEBER, PLC, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Joshua Koltun, JOSHUA KOLTUN, San Francisco, California, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Michael A. Sneyd, Joanne Geha Swanson, KERR, RUSSELL AND WEBER, PLC, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Joshua Koltun, JOSHUA KOLTUN, San Francisco, California, for Appellee.

          Aaron Mackey, ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION, San Francisco, California, for Amicus Curiae.

          Before: SUHRHEINRICH, WHITE, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          HELENE N. WHITE, Circuit Judge.

         Plaintiff, Signature Management Team, LLC ("Team"), prevailed in this action for copyright infringement but appeals the district court's refusal to unmask Defendant John Doe, an anonymous blogger. Because the district court failed to recognize the presumption in favor of open judicial records, we REMAND with instructions to reconsider unmasking Doe in light of this opinion.

         I. Background

         Team is a multi-level marketing company that sells materials designed to help individuals profit in multi-level marketing businesses.[1] John Doe anonymously runs a blog titled "Amthrax, " in which he criticizes multi-level marketing companies. Doe focuses much of his criticism on Team. On January 18, 2013, Doe posted a hyperlink on his blog to a downloadable copy of the entirety of the fourth edition of a book copyrighted by Team, "The Team Builder's Textbook" ("the Work"). At the time of the infringement, the Work was in its ninth edition. After Team served Automattic, Inc. (the blog's host) with a take-down notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 512, Doe quickly removed the hyperlink to the Work.

         On September 19, 2013, Team filed this action alleging one count of copyright infringement against Doe arising from his publication of the Work on his blog. Team sought only injunctive relief, including a request that the district court identify Doe. Team also requested an order instructing Doe to destroy all copies of the Work in his possession, and a permanent injunction ordering Doe to cease all infringing use of the Work. In response, Doe asserted fair-use and copyright-misuse defenses. Doe also asserted that he has a First Amendment right to speak anonymously, and that his identity should therefore not be disclosed to Team.

         Team then moved to compel discovery of Doe's identity. In its order granting the motion in part and denying the motion in part, the district court applied the balancing test from Art of Living Found. v. Does 1-10, No. 10-CV-05022, 2011 WL 5444622 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 9, 2011), a case involving an organization seeking to unmask the operators of an anonymously run blog. This test is designed "to balance 'the magnitude of the harms that would be caused to the competing interests by a ruling in favor of plaintiff and by a ruling in favor of defendant, '" id. at *4 (quoting Highfields Capital Mgmt., L.P. v. Doe, 385 F.Supp.2d 969, 980 (N.D. Cal. 2005)), and includes two steps:

(1) [t]he plaintiff must produce competent evidence supporting a finding of each fact that is essential to a given cause of action; and (2) if the plaintiff makes a sufficient evidentiary showing, the court must compare the magnitude of the harms that would be caused to the competing interests by a ...

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