A new dimension was just added to the ongoing stream of BitTorrent lawsuits in the U.S. A Canadian BitTorrent user has been ordered to pay $60,000 by a U.S. District Court judge. The Calgary resident, who did not defend himself, was ordered to pay the damages for sharing two films on an adult-oriented BitTorrent tracker.
Over the last year several mass-lawsuits were started against so-called ‘John Doe’ defendants, who are only identified by their IP-address. However, at the same time a handful of copyright holders have also launched cases against named BitTorrent users.
One of these defendants was the Calgary, Canada-based Alan Phillips. The adult entertainment studio Corbin Fisher filed suit against Phillips, who they claim had illicitly shared two of their movies (“Turner F***s Austin” and “Keagan” ) on the BitTorrent tracker Gaytorrents.ru.
While most BitTorrent sites treat the private information of their users confidentially, the Gaytorrents.ru operator kindly provided the copyright holder with information that could identify the defendant.
This compliance by GayTorrents.ru allows Corbin Fisher to directly target defendants, instead of having to ask the court for a subpoena.
In the initial complaint Corbin Fisher alleged that Phillips willingly infringed on its copyright, and the studio’s lawyer Marc Randazza asked U.S. District Court judge John Houston to award $50,000 in damages per movie, totaling 100,000. Although Phillips complained to the court in an attempt to get the case dismissed, he did not defend himself.
Due to Phillips absence, Judge Houston was left with no choice but to order a default judgement as requested by the plaintiff.
In his ruling Judge Houston rejects the studio’s claim that the infringement was willful, just because Phillips was savvy enough to use BitTorrent. This reduced the maximum damages from $150,000 to $30,000 per movie.
Judge Houston did, however, rule that Phillips was guilty of copyright infringement.
“The record, as presented does not support a finding of willfulness based solely on plaintiff’s speculative argument that BitTorrent requires technical knowledge such that a person using the application necessarily used it in order to defraud plaintiff.”
“Thus, this Court finds that the increase in statutory damages suggested by plaintiff is not appropriately assessed here. In this Court’s view, statutory damages of $30,000 per infringed work, for a total of $60,000 plus attorneys’ fees is reasonable.”
In total Alan Phillips was ordered to pay $63,867, which makes it one of the largest fines ever handed out to a P2P user in the U.S. Certainly the highest we know of where a foreign copyright infringer was targeted.
“As a Canadian citizen, I do not recognize the applicability of US copyright law or the jurisdiction of a US District Court over me in this matter,” Phillips informed TorrentFreak in a statement. “For that reason I refused to formally participate in this civil action against me in a foreign court under foreign law.”
“Again, I am not a resident of, and have no economic assets in, the USA. So it is difficult to see how this judgment will affect me as written. To have this judgment enforced against me in Canada would require further judicial proceedings in my country, which I would, of course, be free to contest,” Phillips added.
The plaintiff’s defendant had something different to say.
“There are too many canadians who are under the mistaken impression that Canada does not respect copyrights,” lawyer Marc Randazza told TorrentFreak in a comment.
“Canada is a signatory to international copyright treaties, and thus Canadians need to learn that the border does not insulate them from illegal activity,”
“My client is delighted with the verdict,” he added.
Update: The people at Gaytorrent.ru (without an S) deny any involvement in this issue. More info here.