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Dec. 4 — A film producer's copyright infringement claim brought to determine the identities of BitTorrent users based on their Internet protocol addresses was not improper, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Dec. 4.
Addressing the issue directly for the first time in the Eighth Circuit, the court rejected a defendant's claim that it was so unreasonable for the copyright holder to sue her that her legal fees should be paid.
Killer Joe Nevada LLC of Los Angeles is an entity that claims copyright interest in the 2011 William Friedkin motion picture “Killer Joe,” featuring Matthew McConaughey, Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church.
Killer Joe brought a copyright infringement claim against 20 unnamed “Doe” defendants, alleging that they entered a BitTorrent swarm to download unauthorized copies of “Killer Joe.”
The copyright holder subpoenaed the relevant Internet service provider to identify the subscribers associated with the implicated IP addresses and amended its complaint to name five individuals, including Leigh Leaverton.
Leaverton denied the allegations and filed a counterclaim seeking a declaration that she had not infringed the copyright interest in “Killer Joe.”
Killer Joe then moved to dismiss its claim against Leaverton, and also her counterclaim, on the grounds that it would be moot.
However, Leaverton opposed the voluntary dismissal unless she was awarded attorneys' fees. However, Judge Mark W. Bennett of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa dismissed the claim and the counterclaim without an award of fees. Leaverton appealed.
The appeals court rejected Leaverton's argument that fees should be awarded in order to deter Killer Joe and other copyright holders from bringing claims on the basis of IP addresses without first investigating to determine whether the named individual was actually an infringer.
The court found no abuse of discretion in the district court's determination that it was reasonable and not frivolous for Killer Joe to bring its claim against Leaverton.
“Although this court has not reached that precise question, a plaintiff such as Killer Joe Nevada may properly sue ‘John Doe' to ascertain the ISP subscriber,” the court said. “Leaverton cites no binding authority that a Copyright Act suit based on the infringer's IP address is frivolous or unreasonable.”
Furthermore, the court said that the district court was not bound to find that Killer Joe had sued Leaverton with an improper motivation just because it “promptly dismissed its lawsuit once it learned Leaverton was not the infringer.”
The court's opinion was authored by Judge Duane Benton and joined by Judges James B. Loken and Bobby E. Shepherd.
Killer Joe was represented by Hamilton IP Law, Davenport, Iowa. Leaverton was represented by the Johnson Law Firm, West Des Moines, Iowa.
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