While new “copyright troll” lawsuits are still being filed on a weekly basis, there are signs that some judges are growing tired of the practice and becoming increasingly skeptical of the claims made by copyright holders.
In Oregon, a federal recently dismissed a complaint filed by the makers of the Adam Sandler movie The Cobbler. The judge dismissed a direct infringement complaint against an alleged movie pirate from the outset, as it was clear that the defendant wasn’t the infringer.
The defendant in question, Thomas Gonzales, operates an adult foster care home where several people had access to the Internet. The filmmakers were aware of this and during a hearing their counsel admitted that any guest could have downloaded the film.
Still, the filmmakers decided to move their case ahead, and for this decision they may now have to pay. After the case was dismissed, the wrongfully accused ‘pirate’ asked to be compensated for the fees he incurred during his defense.
In a findings and recommendations filing published last Friday (pdf), Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman concludes that the filmmakers went too far.
“The Court finds that once Plaintiff learned that the alleged infringement was taking place at an adult group care home at which Gonzales did not reside, Plaintiff’s continued pursuit of Gonzales for copyright infringement was objectively unreasonable,” Judge Beckerman writes.
Gonzales argued that the filmmakers are using these lawsuits to pressure people into expensive settlements. While the plaintiffs deny that money is a goal for them, the court shares the defendant’s view.
The “overaggressive” tactics of the filmmakers warrant a fees award, Judge Beckerman writes in her recommendation.
“The Court shares Gonzales’ concern that Plaintiff is motivated, at least in large part, by extracting large settlements from individual consumers prior to any meaningful litigation.
“On balance, the Court has concerns about the motivation behind Plaintiff’s overaggressive litigation of this case and other cases, and that factor weighs in favor of fee shifting.”
Copyright holders often argue that damages awards are needed to deter the defendant and other pirates from infringing. In this case, however, the tables are turned.
The Court states that a fees award in favor or the wrongfully accused defendant should deter the filmmakers and other ‘copyright trolls’ from dragging people into copyright lawsuits without any factual evidence.
“Compensating Gonzales will encourage future defendants with valid defenses to litigate those defenses, even if the litigation is expensive,” Judge Beckerman writes.
“Conversely, and perhaps more importantly, awarding fees to Gonzales should deter Plaintiff in the future from continuing its overaggressive pursuit of alleged infringers without a reasonable factual basis.”
All in all the Magistrate Judge concludes that Gonzales deserves compensation. She recommends that the court awards $17,222 in attorney fees as well as $255 in other expenses.
The filmmakers now have two weeks to object to the recommendations and findings, which means that the damages are not final yet. However, as DieTrollDie notes, such an objection could also mean that they would end up paying more.