In the Oregon District Court, Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman recently recommended dismissal of a complaint filed by the makers of the Adam Sandler movie The Cobbler.
According to the Judge both claims of direct and indirect infringement were not sufficient for the case to continue. What’s unique in this case, is that the direct infringement claims were dismissed sua sponte, which hasn’t happened before.
To prove direct infringement copyright holders merely have to make it “plausible” that a defendant, Thomas Gonzales in this case, is indeed the copyright infringer.
This is traditionally done by pointing out that the IP-address is directly linked to the defendant’s Internet connection, for example. However, according to Judge Beckerman this is not enough.
“The only facts Plaintiff pleads in support of its allegation that Gonzales is the infringer, is that he is the subscriber of the IP address used to download or distribute the movie, and that he was sent notices of infringing activity to which he did not respond. That is not enough,” she writes in her recommendation.
“Plaintiff has not alleged any specific facts tying Gonzales to the infringing conduct. While it is possible that the subscriber is also the person who downloaded the movie, it is also possible that a family member, a resident of the household, or an unknown person engaged in the infringing conduct.”
That an outsider could be the pirate is not unlikely. The defendant 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.
To gather more information, the filmmakers were allowed to depose Gonzales, but this didn’t result in any additional evidence. Nevertheless, they amended the complaint to name Gonzales as the defendant, which is not correct according to Judge Beckerman.
“Based on the facts alleged in the First Amended Complaint, Gonzales is but one of many possible infringers, and Plaintiff’s allegation that Gonzales is the infringer is just a guess.”
“’Plausible’ does not mean certain, but it does mean ‘likely,’ and Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to support its allegation that Gonzales is the likely infringer here. Accordingly, the district judge should dismiss Plaintiff’s claim for copyright infringement.”
The filmmakers also tried to hold Gonzales accountable for the infringements of others through his connection, but the Judge concluded that a claim of indirect copyright infringement doesn’t hold up here either.
“This Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to state a plausible claim “tending to exclude the possibility that an alternative explanation is true”,” she concludes.
While not all judges across the country may come to the same conclusion, the ruling offers hope for defendants who are in a similar position. Suing alleged BitTorrent pirates is still an option but increasingly judges demand additional proof.