For more than half a decade so-called “copyright trolling” cases have been keeping the U.S. judicial system busy.
In many cases the copyright holders end up extracting a settlement from the alleged pirates, but every now and then a defendant fights back with success.
This also happened in Oregon last summer, in a case filed by the makers of the Adam Sandler movie The Cobbler. The judge dismissed a direct infringement complaint against an alleged movie pirate from the outset, as it was clear that the defendant wasn’t the infringer.
The defendant in question, Thomas Gonzales, operates an adult foster care home where several people had access to the Internet. The filmmakers were aware of this but decided to move their case ahead nonetheless.
For this decision they now have to pay. Following an earlier recommendation from the magistrate judge, District Judge Michael Simon this week ruled that the filmmakers should pay the legal fees of the falsely accused man.
“The Court will issue a Judgment dismissing with prejudice Plaintiff’s indirect infringement claim and without prejudice Plaintiff’s direct infringement claim against Mr. Gonzales,” he writes.
In addition, the copyright holder, Cobbler Nevada, is ordered to pay Gonzales $17,222 in attorney fees as well as $255 in other expenses.
Apart from the decision being a financial success for the defendant, it also provides some great ammunition for people who end up in a similar position.
As explained in the magistrate’s recommendations, the option to shift the legal fees to the rightsholder should send a strong message to other rightsholders that dragging people to court without proper evidence is not without consequences.
“Compensating Gonzales will encourage future defendants with valid defenses to litigate those defenses, even if the litigation is expensive,” Judge Beckerman wrote.
“Conversely, and perhaps more importantly, awarding fees to Gonzales should deter Plaintiff in the future from continuing its overaggressive pursuit of alleged infringers without a reasonable factual basis,” she added.
This week’s ruling shows that falsely accused pirates shouldn’t simply cave to intimidating threats. While it is not without risk to fight these cases, it is perhaps the only way to stop the clearly abusive practices in the long run.