Judge Denies Copyright Troll Malibu Media's Request For A Default Judgment
from the don't-see-that-every-day dept
Lately so many of our copyright trolling stories have been about Richard Liebowitz or Mathew Higbee, but we shouldn’t forget about Malibu Media, which is still out there doing Malibu Media things. The latest, to come out of a court in Connecticut is that the infamous copyright troll has had a default judgment request denied. This is exceptionally rare.
Default judgments are what you get when the other side doesn’t even bother to show up. They’re almost always granted as a matter of course (though, collecting on a default judgment is not always so easy). However, in this case US District Court judge Jeffrey Meyer isn’t buying what Malibu Media is selling. Judge Meyer jumps right in and points out how unfair it is to blame the ISP account holder for actions that may have been done by someone else:
Imagine that someone accesses the internet via a particular internet protocol (?IP?) address and illegally downloads movies. That IP address was assigned by an internet service provider (?ISP?) to one of its subscriber accounts. Is it fair to say that the ISP account subscriber?the person who pays the internet bill?is the individual who must have engaged in the illegal activity and who should pay a large damages award if he or she does not appear in court to deny doing anything wrong? At a time when wireless internet networks and personal electronic devices are ubiquitous, and when network passwords, logins for TV streaming services, and Amazon accounts are freely shared with family, friends, roommates, businesses, and even strangers, I don?t think so.
From there, despite the defendant providing no defense at all, the judge says that Malibu Media “has not alleged plausible grounds” for the case and thus the request must be denied:
Defendant John Doe is the named subscriber to a Cox Communications internet service account that is associated with the IP address that was used to unlawfully download several of Malibu Media?s films. Because Malibu Media does not allege any additional facts beyond Doe?s subscriber status to show that he engaged in the unlawful downloading of Malibu Media films, I conclude that Malibu Media has not alleged plausible grounds for relief and will deny Malibu Media?s motion for default judgment without prejudice.
Again, many judges will just grant a default judgment as a matter of course, and wouldn’t even consider whether or not there was a plausible claim in the complaint unless there was a motion to dismiss from the defense.
But, it certainly appears that more and more judges are wising up to copyright trolling tactics. Here, the court makes clear that it has the power to deny a default judgment in a case like this.
A court should not grant a motion for default judgment simply because a plaintiff alleges in a conclusory fashion that a defendant has violated the law. Instead, the factual allegations in support of default judgment must establish plausible grounds for relief. Thus, a court must evaluate whether the factual allegations set forth as a basis for the default judgment motion would survive a challenge by way of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
And here, the judge appears to really understand that just having an IP address is not the same as knowing who did any infringement:
On the one hand, some courts conclude that, if there has been a copyright infringement traced to a particular IP address, it is plausible to conclude that the subscriber to the ISP account that corresponds to this IP address is the one who engaged in the acts of copyright infringement….
On the other hand, a growing weight of authority runs to the contrary, with courts concluding that a defendant?s status as subscriber of the ISP account associated with the IP address used to infringe a copyright, standing alone, merely makes it possible?rather than plausible?that it was the defendant who engaged in the acts of unlawful infringement….
What’s notable here is how many of the cases the judge cites for both of those arguments are… Malibu Media cases. The judge has done the research it appears:
The Second Circuit has yet to address the issue, but the Ninth Circuit has persuasively explained why a plaintiff like Malibu Media does not state plausible grounds for relief by alleging only that a defendant is the registered owner of the internet subscriber account assigned to the IP address associated with the infringement activity. See Cobbler Nevada LLC v. Gonzalez, 901 F.3d 1142 (9th Cir. 2018). ?Although copyright owners can often trace infringement of copyrighted material to an IP address, it is not always easy to pinpoint the particular individual or device engaged in the infringement.? Id. at 1146. ?[S]imply establishing an account [that is associated with an IP address] does not mean the subscriber is even accessing the internet, and multiple devices can access the internet under the same IP address.?
The court isn’t throwing out the case entirely, giving Malibu Media another chance to make their case, but also won’t just rubber stamp a default:
To be sure, I understand that ?the technology limitations potentially puts a plaintiff [like Malibu Media] in a difficult position in naming the correct defendant,? but ?such limitations do not relieve a plaintiff of alleging sufficient facts so that a court can reasonably infer that the named defendant is the actual infringer.? Malibu Media v. Park, 2019 WL 2960146, at *6. Without additional allegations, ?[i]t thus remains just as possible that the IP address was used by family members, roommates, guests, friends, and neighbors.? Malibu Media v. Duncan, 2020 WL 567105, at *6. Accordingly, I will deny the motion for default judgment without prejudice to renewal on the basis of additional allegations to plausibly show that it was Doe who engaged in the alleged infringing activity.
It’s good to see more and more courts understanding the games copyright trolls play and not letting them get away with them.