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Judge slows MPAA file-trading suits

A California judge says the movie studios have improperly bundled too many separate cases together.

A California judge has slowed Hollywood's pursuit of file swappers, saying the movie studios have improperly bundled too many separate cases together.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) last week launched a legal attack that borrowed the record industry's strategy of targeting individual file swappers. As in the case of the record labels, the suits were filed against a range of anonymous "John Does," with names to be added after a court-supported investigation process plays out.

Late last week, Judge William Alsup said the MPAA had not shown good reason to bundle together 12 separate cases. He allowed the first of the suits to go ahead to a discovery process, in which the identity of the alleged file swapper will be requested from Internet service provider Pacific Bell, but he put the other 11 cases on hold.

The order was praised by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil liberties group that has been a consistent critic of the recording industry's and movie studios' legal strategies against file swappers.

"This decision helps to give due-process rights to the Internet users accused of infringement," said EFF Staff Attorney Wendy Seltzer. "Lumping them together makes it more difficult for everyone to defend against these claims."

An MPAA representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Recording Industry Association of America has run into similar procedural setbacks in its ongoing cases against individual file traders. Few of those roadblocks, however, have created significant impediments to the overall progress of the cases.