Torrent Site Admin and Uploader Can’t Be Sued in US

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The makers of the movie 'Hellboy' have failed to obtain a default judgment against the operator of the now-defunct torrent site MKVCage. A federal court in Hawaii ruled that US courts don't have jurisdiction over the foreign defendant, and have denied the request for $150,000 in piracy damages. The movie company is considering to appeal the ruling.

hellboyLast year, the makers of the superhero film “Hellboy” (HB Productions) filed a lawsuit against torrent site MKVCage at a Hawaii federal court.

The movie company accused the site and its operator of promoting and distributing pirated copies of the movie while demanding an end to the activity.

The lawsuit had an almost immediate effect as MKVCage became unreachable soon after the case went public. At the same time, the uploader stopped pushing torrents to other sites as well. This meant that part of the plan had succeeded, but HB Productions wanted more.

Hellboy Demands Piracy Damages

The company argued that the torrent site caused irreparable damage and demanded compensation from the alleged brains behind the operation, a Pakistani man named Muhammad Faizan.

Since Faizan didn’t show up in court, the movie company’s attorney Kerry Culpepper requested a default judgment. First, he demanded $270,000 but after the court raised questions about the calculation, this figure was lowered to $150,000. However, the amount wasn’t the only problem.

The Hawaii federal court also questioned whether the defendant, who didn’t put up a defense, could actually be sued in a US Court. According to Magistrate Judge Kenneth J. Mansfield, this is not the case.

Can MKVCage’s Operator be Sued?

In a recommendation to the court, issued in September, Mansfield concluded that the filmmakers failed to show that MKVCage’s activities were expressly aimed at the United States. In addition, the defendant’s contacts with the US were insufficient to invoke nationwide jurisdiction.

Hellboy’s attorney objected to this conclusion, listing the many connections between the site and the US. For example, MKVCage used the services of companies such as Namecheap, Twitter and Cloudflare, targeted ads at US visitors, and has a DMCA policy that is rooted in US law.

This week, US District Court Judge Michael Seabright had the final say in the matter. Based on the arguments presented, he concludes that a US court doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Pakistani defendant.

US Courts Don’t Have Jurisdiction

“[T]he court concludes that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that Defendant’s activities were expressly aimed at the United States or Hawaii. Thus, Plaintiff failed to show that Defendant’s contacts are sufficient to invoke nationwide jurisdiction,” Judge Seabright writes.

Hellboy’s lawyer cited several cases where courts ruled that jurisdiction is possible in similar circumstances. However, Judge Seabright notes that those were issued before a recent and more strict appeals court ruling.

In that case (AMA v. Wanat), there were also several connections, including many US visitors. However, there was no evidence that the US was the “focal point” of the website and the “harm suffered.” The same applies in this case.

For example, the website’s advertisements may have been geo-targeted specifically at the US public, but the same also applies to other regions. The geo-targeting itself is not exclusive to the US.

The fact that MKVCage used US companies is not sufficient either. Namecheap, Twitter, and other intermediaries have a global presence. People generally don’t choose to use them because they want to target a US audience specifically.

Uploads Don’t Target US Specifically

Even the argument that the defendant uploaded many United States-produced movies onto his websites doesn’t suffice, as American movies are popular all over the world.

“Plaintiff attempts to distinguish Wanat by arguing that Defendant, not website users, uploaded United States-produced movies onto his websites. But the global market for United States-produced movies renders Defendant’s posting of content to his websites irrelevant for purposes of establishing express aiming.

“Nor does Plaintiff allege any facts showing that Defendant specifically targeted the United States and/or Hawaii in choosing to upload files of Hellboy, or that Defendant was physically present in the United States to upload his files.”

Finally, MKVCage’s DMCA policy doesn’t prove jurisdiction either. Hellboy’s attorney argued that this showed that the defendant had a “clear intention to protect his safe harbor” rights under United States law. However, Judge Seabright counters this, noting that the site didn’t have a DMCA agent listed, as is required by law.

Judgment Denied, But Not All is Over Yet

Based on the evidence provided, the court can’t conclude that the defendant expressly aimed his infringing activities at the United States or Hawaii. As a result, the request for a default judgment including $150,000 in damages is denied.

Judge Seabright didn’t end the case completely, however. Because the denial is in part based on new jurisdiction, Hellboy is allowed to file an amended complaint next month. If that doesn’t happen, the case will be dismissed.

Hellboy’s attorney Kerry Culpepper hasn’t decided yet what the next step will be. Amending the complaint is an option, but the Appeal Court as well, as there’s a related case with a similar outcome which he would like to fight as well.

“We are considering amending the complaint or requesting leave to immediately appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals jointly with 42 Ventures, LLC since the issues of these two cases are related and open a potential black hole for all intellectual property holders,” Culpepper says.

MKVCage, meanwhile, remains offline and the similarly-named uploader has abandoned his accounts on other torrent sites as well.

A copy of the order from Chief US District Court Judge Michael Seabright is available here (pdf)


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