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By Peter Leung
The company that holds the copyrights to the 2015 film “The Cobbler” must pay $17,000 to cover the attorneys fees of a man who was accused of downloading the movie.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Aug. 27 affirmed the dismissal of the copyright infringement lawsuit against the man, Thomas Gonzales, and the fees award against Cobbler Nevada LLC.
The decision shows the risk to copyright holders that sue internet users for infringement. Cobbler traced the downloading and uploading of the movie starring Adam Sandler to the internet protocol address assigned to Gonzales. That wasn’t enough to support its allegations of direct and contributory infringement.
Cobbler first filed a lawsuit against the internet protocol address, then learned from Comcast Corp. that Gonzales was the registered subscriber, and amended its complaint to name him as the defendant.
But the service attached to the internet protocol address was for the adult foster care home that Gonzales ran in Portland, Oregon. Both residents and employees of the home could use the service, and Cobbler couldn’t identify any suspected infringers. After deposing Gonzales, Cobbler amended its complaint again, naming only the John Doe IP address as the defendant.
Cobbler withdrew the complaint after the district court told the company to prove why the lawsuit shouldn’t be dismissed. The court then ordered Cobbler to pay Gonzales’ attorneys’ fees.
The Ninth Circuit said Cobbler’s direct infringement claim failed because the only connection between Gonzales and the infringement was the internet service subscription. Cobbler’s allegations fit the textbook definition of infringement, but weren’t supported by an independent investigation and weren’t “enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level,” the court said.
The last complaint, which only names the internet protocol address as the defendant, showed how futile the case was, since Cobbler was back where it started before learning Gonzales’ name, the court said.
The contributory infringement allegation was similarly baseless, the court said. To win, Cobbler had to prove Gonzales actively encouraged or induced copyright infringement, but its complaints made no such allegations, the court said.
Cobbler tried to argue that Gonzales contributed to infringement because he failed to secure or monitor his internet connection, but the Ninth Circuit said that he had no obligation to do so.
The Copyright Act gives courts discretion to give attorneys’ fees to the winning party, and district court was within its authority to order Cobbler to pay Gonzales’s fees, the Ninth Circuit said.
Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote the opinion, which Judge Richard A. Paez joined. Judge Richard A. Paez, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, who also heard the case, also joined.
Harris Bricken and Crowell Law represented Cobbler, while Merseene Law represented Gonzales.
The case is Cobbler Nev., LLC, v. Gonzales, 2018 BL 307235, 9th Cir., No. 17-35041, 8/27/18.
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