Court Says Plaintiff Needs More Than IP Address To Prevail In Copyright Infringement Case

Earning a judgment against an individual allegedly infringing on one’s copyright is not as simple as obtaining information attaching an IP address to the supposed infringer and connecting the dots for the judge. The court denied a plaintiff’s motion for default judgment in a case pending before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York on such grounds.

Malibu Media, LLC filed a Complaint against Thomas Causa, alleging that Mr. Causa unlawfully downloaded and distributed copyrighted adult films using the software BitTorrent, which is a peer-to-peer file-sharing system used for distributing large amounts of data, including digital movie files. Malibu Media said that Mr. Causa did not only do this on one occasion but that he is a habitual and persistent BitTorrent user and copyright infringer, who has illegally downloaded, copied, and distributed eleven of Malibu Media’s copyrighted adult films between November 2018 and July 2019.

Originally, Malibu Media initiated the litigation without knowing the identity of the defendant. The Complaint was later amended to name Mr. Causa after the court granted Malibu Media’s motion to serve a third-party subpoena to identify the individual Internet subscriber associated with the IP address that was referenced in the initial Complaint. Yet, the Court was not satisfied with what Malibu Media presented in its motion for default judgment.

“After careful review, the Court concludes that Malibu Media’s Amended Complaint fails to state a plausible claim against Defendant because the only allegation that connects him to the infringing activity is that he is the internet subscriber associated with the IP address which was used to download and share Plaintiff’s copyrighted films,” states the order denying Malibu Media’s motion for default judgment.

The judge referred to a Ninth Circuit case — Cobbler Nevada LLC v. Gonzalez, 901 F.3d 1142 (9th Cir. 2018) — where the court explained that Internet providers may identify an individual registered to a particular IP address and the physical address associated with the account, but that connection does not mean that the Internet subscriber is also the infringer, noting that multiple devices can access the Internet under the same IP address.

Ultimately, the denial was based on the judge’s contention that Malibu Media needed to plead more facts tying the defendant directly to the alleged copyright infringement in order to state a sufficiently plausible claim. The court provided Malibu Media with leave to amend its pleading within thirty days and renew a motion for default thereafter.