Falsely Accused ‘Pirate’ Wins $101,000 in Attorney Fees

In a landmark victory a man falsely accused of pirating the B-movie Elf Man has won more than $100,000 in attorney fees. The makers of the movie pulled out of the lawsuit after their evidence gathering technique was criticized, but couldn't escape a hefty bill.

elf-manMass-piracy lawsuits have been plaguing the U.S. for years, targeting hundreds of thousands of alleged downloaders.

Most copyright holders involved in these cases, often referred to as trolls, are only out to collect settlement payments from the accused, so the cases never go to trial.

The same is true for the lawsuit between the makers of the “Elf-Man” movie and Ryan Lamberson of Spokane Valley, Washington.

As is common in these cases an IP address was presented as the main piece of evidence. This address was collected by a file-sharing “investigator” using software to connect to the BitTorrent swarm where the infringing files were allegedly shared.

However, Lamberson’s attorney pointed out to the court that the studio’s evidence was far from solid, and that they couldn’t prove the alleged wrongdoings.

“Mr. Lamberson is an innocent ISP subscriber. Like many of the Elf Man defendants, he had never heard of Elf Man. He never had any desire to view the movie let alone download his own copy,” defense attorney Chris Lynch tells TF.

One of the problems the defense uncovered was that the tracking software couldn’t actually prove that the defendant had downloaded the file.

“Although the complaints allege the defendants ‘downloaded’ the works, the plaintiff’s investigators’ computers are programmed only to entrap data uploaded by the defendant, not data downloaded by the defendant. In other words, there is no evidence that any defendant downloaded the movie, only supposition,” Lynch says.

And there were other problems too. The Elf-Man studio wasn’t entirely forthcoming about the identity, employer, or location of its investigators, for example.

Faced with these issues the Elf-Man makers decided to drop the lawsuit. However, they didn’t get away without having to pick up the bill as Judge Rice awarded attorney fees to the accused file-sharer.

Just before the weekend the Judge issued an order granting Mr. Lamberson nearly $101,000 in attorney fees, which he deemed a reasonable amount.

“Defendant’s Motion for Attorneys’ Fees … is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Defendant is awarded attorney fees in the amount of $100,961,” the Judge writes.

100k

The awarded fees are short of the $200,000 requested, but the defense is quite pleased with the outcome nonetheless as the amount helps to cover the costs.

For some, however, the outcome is still a disappointment in that the Elf-Man makers weren’t sanctioned for their dubious practices, including the use of unlicensed investigators.

Lynch and his firm Lee & Hayes are not done with the copyright trolling cases though, and will keep a close eye on developments. Perhaps they can target this type of abuse again in a future case.

“Although we are delighted with the outcome for Mr. Lamberson, we remain concerned about the practice of United States copyright infringement cases being brought against innocent people who are based on thin, possibly inadmissible, foreign evidence without any corroboration of actual infringement,” Lynch notes.

“Our case exposed some of the abuse, but there are hundreds of cases throughout the country based on similar evidentiary anomalies. My law firm intends to remain active in this area fighting this abuse.”

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