Around the world, file-sharers are regularly pressed to pay significant settlement fees, often backed up by pressure from a lawsuit.
These efforts, often characterized as “copyright trolling,” share a familiar pattern. Copyright holders acquire a subpoena to get the personal details of an alleged pirate and then contact the person with a settlement request.
This was also the case when Darren Brinkley was sued in a Utah federal court in 2017. In a complaint filed by Criminal Productions – known for the movie Criminal – he and 31 others were accused of illegally sharing a copy of the film.
Accused Pirate Fights Back
Brinkley denied these claims and rejected the settlement offer. Initially, the movie company maintained its claim, but after the accused pirate fought back, Criminal Productions let the case go.
The defendant, however, wasn’t prepared to walk away without getting his bills paid and submitted a motion to cover the legal fees. Brinkley’s attorneys argued that, while the filmmakers had no intention to litigate the “baseless suit,” their client was forced to run up significant costs.
“These tactics should at minimum require that Defendant Brinkley be made whole for Plaintiff’s filing of litigation it clearly had no intention of pursuing and that may have had no basis in the first instance. This is the very definition of ‘cut and run’ litigation,” they argued.
Brinkley’s attorneys calculated the total costs at $62,818.35 which they requested to be paid in full. A few days ago, District Court Judge David Nuffer ruled on the matter. While he agrees that the film company has to pay up, the final award is significantly lower.
Court Awards $4,420 in Attorneys’ Fees
Judge Nuffer granted a sum of $4,420 in attorneys’ fees and costs, which represents the costs that were incurred until December 22, 2017, plus the costs for the motion itself. According to the order, Brinkley “declined the opportunity to resolve the claims” without incurring further costs after that date.
This decision is in part based on repeated offers from Criminal Productions to ‘settle’ the matter without further costs, which Briskley denied.
Deterring ‘Copyright Troll’ Tactics
While the relatively low amount will likely come as a disappointment to the accused ‘pirate,’ the court did agree that the movie company should be deterred from avoiding discovery obligations by dropping out of lawsuits when they are challenged.
“As Brinkley argues, this avoidance of disclosure and discovery obligations is consistent with the typical litigation behavior of a ‘copyright troll’, who targets hundreds of defendants and offers quick settlements priced so that it is less expensive for the defendant to pay the settlement than to defend the claim,” the order reads.
The court didn’t rule on the accuracy of the defense allegations in this specific case. However, as a deterrent, Criminal Productions will have to pay part of the defendant’s costs.
“But Productions should be deterred from filing lawsuits in which it declines to provide evidence to a defendant, avoiding disclosure and discovery obligations, thus forcing defendants to incur defense costs even though the defendant will never have an opportunity to mount a defense because Productions is ready to dismiss when opposition arises,” Judge Nuffer notes.
A copy of Judge Nuffer’s order on the motion for attorneys’ fees is available here (pdf).