This seems to be the place in the replies for calm and cogent responses, so I will pick up the thread from where debrain's thoughtful analysis leaves off.
>"And such information is not necessarily confidential; accident reports and police records may also identify the driver." True, but what does this have to do with anything?
There are a couple of angles here, but judicial economy is one. The idea is that there are certain rules that are in place to make the judicial process more efficient. Here, the judge could be arguing that the name of the actual driver will inevitably come out anyway, either from police reports or the rental car agency giving the driver up so that liability shifts to him. Given that the disclosure of this nonconfidential information is inevitable, let's get on with it and save everyone a lot of time and money.
By contrast, disclosure of confidential customer information is not inevitable so it is appropriate to observe the details of process.
>The question is: given a certain probability that a company's customer is guilty
That is not a given. The factors that would let one estimate the probability that there was even wrongdoing in the first place, let alone that a specific person committed the specific wrong, come out during discovery and trial. The subpoena in question is coming before any of that.
>If some customers in similar situations have had their identities made public by other circumstances, the judge's ruling gives no reason why that should be relevant at all, in a situation where the customer's identity is not public
Their identities became public through the same judicial process being invoked here. Because we live in a system of precedent in which persons similarly situated are supposed to be similarly treated, the judge's statement is directly relevant.
>For a court to take a plaintiff's case against a given defendant seriously, they [sic] just have to believe that there is a reasonable probability of the plaintiff winning.
That is often necessary but never sufficient. A predicate inquiry in every legal question is jurisdiction. Doe the court have jurisdiction over the people involved? Here, the judge is saying that he has no reason to believe that his court has jurisdiction over the Doe defendants.
>But there is no reason to think that in the case of these entities, there would be any more "disconnect" between the actual infringer and the user on the network that the IP address had been assigned to.
A recurring theme in law is burden of proof. Your statement boils down to "defendant cannot prove that there is a greater disconnect in one instance than in the other." Even if the defendant cannot prove it, that is immaterial. At this stage of the proceeding, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to state an argument and support it. We're not at the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt stage yet, but plaintiffs cannot just haul anyone into court with mere conclusory statements. Plaintiff did not produce evidence about the level of disconnect, and it is not the court's job either to find that proof or to put the resources of the ISP at plaintiff's disposal just because such proof is not available. The plaintiff must carry the burden of proof beyond mere conclusory statements.
>I certainly don't want to take the position that anyone who doesn't deny their guilt is guilty — but we shouldn't assume that they're innocent, either
Ummm.... well... actually, there is something called presumption of innocence. How it works is, we presume that people are innocent until... well, anyway.
>Plaintiff started with a list of 100 defendants, and then expanded it to 1,000. What does this have to do with the legitimacy, generally, of suing John Doe defendants and subpoenaing their identities?
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that defendants in a lawsuit to be joined by the same kernel of operative facts. In other words, they all have to be in on the deal together. If I run over someone's dog with my car and you run over that guy's other dog with your car, he can't sue both of us in one proceeding (unless, of course, we sat together in my kitchen and jointly hatched a plan to get rid of the dogs). The judge here is saying that it doesn't look to him like these 1,000 defendants probably all got together and decided to steal music from RIAA so they shouldn't all be crammed into one lawsuit.
>"In Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1 - 1000, counsel sought leave to dismiss more than 100 Doe defendants, stating that some of the Does had 'reached a mutually satisfactory resolution of their differences' with the plaintiff." Well, yeah, that's what you're supposed to do — try and settle out of court instead of bringing every single case before a judge. How does the fact that some plaintiffs settled make it less legitimate to sue John Doe defendants in the first place?
The court has a greater responsibility than merely clearing the docket. Here, the judge is saying that it looks to him like this is just a scheme to force people to give money that they may not owe just to avoid the expense of trial. Hizzoner takes offense at what he sees as an abuse of the legal process, and he is declining to give judicial imprimatur to that business model. In short, he finds it unjust and he is exercising his authority and responsibility to see justice done.
>"Could expedited discovery be used to wrest quick settlements, even from people who have done nothing wrong? The embarrassment of public exposure might be too great, the legal system too daunting and expensive, for some to ask whether VPR has competent evidence to prove its case." Now these are actually all fair points. The logical error is that they apply to any lawsuit — Judge Baker makes no argument why these problems would be more pronounced in a lawsuit against 1,000 John Does.
Actually, he does. He notes that the subject matter in this case -- adult videos, some having content and topics that one could classify as being not thoroughly accepted by the mainstream -- may bring unjust settlement pressure on defendants. Contrary to your assertion, these factors do not apply to any lawsuit, or even most lawsuits. He specifically identifies "public embarrassment" as a factor.
You may not care for his reasoning, and it seems clear that there are instances in which you have misunderstood it. However, it is not the weak opinion that you believe it to be.