Dumping “John Doe”: A Federal judge that’s had enough

A recent Ars Technica story highlights the recent actions of Judge Milton Shadur (who I’m going to refer
to as Judge Milton) against two cases filed by copyright lawyer John Steele. Steele had the misfortune of two
similar cases landing in Judge Milton’s court, both copyright infringement cases involving pornography, and both identifying the defendants as “John Doe” with only IP addresseses.

From the article:

On May 6, Steele dismissed the case he had brought only two days earlier. But Shadur wasn’t  going to let Steele just slink away. Though federal courts can indeed be slow, it took Shadur only three days from the case assignment to issue a memorandum order that opened with these words:

It seems that attorney John Steele (“Steele”) might be well advised to stay away from Las Vegas or other casinos, because his current filing on behalf of plaintiff Boy Racer, Inc. has—despite odds in the range of 25 to 1—been assigned at random to the calendar of this District Court, which had previously been the recipient of another random assignment of a Steele-filed action (that one being CP Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-300, No. 10 C 6255). This Court had ended up dismissing the CP Productions action for the reasons stated in its February 7, 2011 memorandum order and its February 24, 2011 memorandum opinion and order, which (among other reasons) rejected attorney Steele’s effort to shoot first and identify his targets later.

Shadur went on to say that he doesn’t want to see any more of these “John Doe” cases that bring a huge list of IP addresses against people who may or may not even live in Illinois. […]


And kudos to Judge Milton (Shadur) for standing up to this abusive lawsuit tactic. To be fair, though, there’s a bit more to it than that: according to this previous story, Judge Milton had received way too many motions to quash from way outside his jurisdiction on the first case that Steele filed (the CP Productions case), as far away as New Jersey and Texas. So this is a case of “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”

And Counselor Steele really has no excuse for being this sloppy. (Note: the following explanations get a bit technical.) Running a simple whois command on an IP address will tell you the administrator of the ARIN registry for that address block. Sometimes, one will get lucky and get something like:

Speakeasy, Inc. SPEAKEASY-5 [...]

which makes it pretty obvious the IP address is in the Houston, TX, area. Other times, it’ll be more generic. Sometimes traceroute (misspelled as tracert on Windows for reasons known only to Microsoft’s developers) is a useful tool for clues on what jurisdiction an IP address might be in. An example follows:

traceroute to www.chicago.com (, 30 hops max, 60 byte packets
 5  ae-43-90.car3.Dallas1.Level3.net (  325.347 ms  327.186 ms
329.107 ms
 6 (  332.383 ms  333.537 ms  334.881 ms
 7  te7-4.mpd01.dfw01.atlas.cogentco.com (  336.787 ms
te9-1.mpd01.dfw01.atlas.cogentco.com (  113.547 ms
te2-4.mpd01.dfw01.atlas.cogentco.com (  116.247 ms
 8  te0-4-0-1.mpd21.mci01.atlas.cogentco.com (  128.580 ms
te9-1.ccr02.dfw01.atlas.cogentco.com (  39.069 ms
te0-2-0-1.mpd21.mci01.atlas.cogentco.com (  118.223 ms
 9  te0-2-0-3.mpd21.ord01.atlas.cogentco.com (  133.125 ms
te0-0-0-1.ccr22.mci01.atlas.cogentco.com (  122.922 ms  123.194 ms
10  te0-4-0-3.ccr22.ord01.atlas.cogentco.com (  138.868 ms
te0-0-0-3.ccr22.ord01.atlas.cogentco.com (  141.094 ms  143.230 ms
11  te4-2.ccr01.ord07.atlas.cogentco.com (  145.647 ms  148.089
ms  150.223 ms
12  mail.chicago.com (  151.922 ms  154.586 ms  156.312 ms

Looking at the hostnames for the cogentco.com hops, a pattern emerges: xxx.xxx.(airport-code)(numbers).atlas.cogentco.com. So, indeed, this website is probably hosted somewhere in the Chicago, IL, area. We aren’t worried about the hops where they are routed through Kansas City and Dallas/Fort Worth, but bonus points if you noticed the route goes through those cities on its way to the Windy City.

(Also, at the time I did this trace, the route was apparently unstable, switching between different paths across Cogentco’s network during the time of hops 7-10. Sometimes this happens but it should not be confusing in the end; just remember to look from the bottom up.)

Of course not every example will be this clean-cut and some backbone ISPs now put less geographic information in their hostnames under the guise of “security.” But between traceroute and whois, one should get enough information to get the city (and thus the proper court to file in) right about 95% of the time, and this shouldn’t take much longer than a couple of minutes per IP address. Yes, it’s a bit more time, but any competent attorney should have no problem with spending a couple of extra hours doing what amounts to due diligence work to keep judges like Judge Milton happy.