In recent years, adult entertainment outfit Malibu Media has often been described as a copyright trolling operation.
The company, known for its popular “X-Art” brand, has gone after thousands of alleged file-sharers in U.S. courts. Many of its targets settle their cases out of court, but others choose to ignore them.
Not responding at all can be quite risky. If a defendant is named in a lawsuit and properly served, the court typically requires a response. If that doesn’t come, the complaining party can request a default judgment.
This is also what happened to New Jersey resident Amiram Peled, who was accused of downloading 19 titles from Malibu Media after the company linked his IP-address to unauthorized BitTorrent activity. Peled was made aware of these allegations but didn’t show up in court to offer a defense.
As a result, Malibu Media submitted a motion arguing that it’s entitled to $28,500 in statutory damages for copyright infringement and an additional $467.55 in costs.
In many cases, courts grant default judgment requests, as there is no defense. This has allowed Malibu Media to collect dozens, if not hundreds of default judgments. However, in the present matter, a judge decided otherwise.
In a recently released opinion, U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden denied the motion, concluding that Malibu Media isn’t entitled to anything.
The denial is based on a culmination of rulings in similar BitTorrent piracy cases. While Malibu Media portrayed the defendant as the copyright infringer, the Court wasn’t convinced that Peled is the one who actually downloaded the files.
“[T]he Court is concerned that, no matter how reliable the tracing technology is, Peled’s status as the subscriber of the IP address is insufficient to prove that he was in fact the infringer of the copyrighted materials,” Judge Hayden writes.
Judge Hayden carefully reviewed how other cases handled similar allegations. While some ruled that geolocation data and an IP-address is sufficient for a default judgment to be granted, other rulings were more critical.
The order specifically cites the highly critical opinion of Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who threw out a similar case in the District of Columbia.
“In a scathing opinion, Judge Lamberth described Strike 3 as a ‘copyright troll,’ and accused it of using bad technology to support predatory litigation,” Judge Hayden writes, also referencing the part claiming that Malibu appears to use the courts “as an ATM.”
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the Cobbler Nevada v. Gonzales case is mentioned as well. There, the court ruled that identifying the registered subscriber of an IP-address is by itself not enough to argue that the person is also the infringer.
This order trickled down to lower courts, with several judges demanding “something more” than just an IP-address in these cases. This includes a previous denial of a default judgment in New Jersey, and also the present case against Mr. Peled.
“Because Malibu Media has not made a sufficient showing to conclude that Peled in fact infringed its copyright, the Court denies the request for default judgment,” Judge Hayden concludes.
A copy of the opinion written by U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden is available here (pdf).