The following article is a guest contribution from Alan Wilmot, a 2L at the University of Miami School of Law.
A week after winning two Oscars at the Academy Awards, the production studio behind ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ initiated a lawsuit against over 100 alleged BitTorrent pirates for illegally downloading the film. Joined by “Dallas Buyers Club, LLC” who later filed its own complaint, the lawsuits allege that 107 individuals shared a pirated copy of the film from their respective home connections around late January. The complaints constitute a copyright infringement claim against these individuals for violating the production studio’s exclusive rights in the film due to the defendants disseminating the film without the studio’s express permission.
As with other BitTorrent lawsuits, the main goal is not to take the masses to trial, but to achieve subpoenas based upon IP addresses in order to reveal the identities behind the alleged infringers so they can be targeted for settlement. Most defendants discovered through this method eventually do settle due to the fact they are mostly individuals or families who do not have the resources to carry on a lengthy lawsuit against a big studio. In fact, this is not the first time the studio, Voltage, has sued BitTorrent users; it is believed the company has made a good amount of money in past with this tactic.
However, this new lawsuit comes on the heels of a recent Washington District Judge ruling holding that the use of an IP address alone as evidence does not meet the pleading requirements needed to pursue a claim for copyright infringement. In that decision, the court granted one of the alleged infringer’s motion to dismiss against the makers of the movie “Elf-Man.” The court reached this conclusion based on the fact that subpoenaing information to identify an “account holder associated with an IP address tells us very little about who actually downloaded [the film] using that IP address.” The court further stated that anyone present in the alleged pirate’s home at the time of the illegal download could be responsible for pirating the film, not just the account holder of the IP address.
This court decision stemmed from another BitTorrent lawsuit holding from Illinois. In 2011, a District Court Judge denied an adult film company access to personal information connected to the IP addresses of the alleged infringing subscribers based upon the belief that IP addresses do not equal people, and as a result, the court did not have personal jurisdiction to hear the case. While this certainly helps the individuals targeted by Dallas Buyers Club LLC, since the company filed its lawsuit in Illinois, it plays a minimal role for those individuals sued by Voltage because its lawsuit was filed in the South District of Texas; court rulings issued in other districts are at best persuasive authority for the presiding judge. However, as seen by the rationale spreading from Illinois to Washington, it follows that the reasoning espoused by both decisions may be gaining traction in district courts across the United States. Most importantly, defendants should take from these past cases that they should not crumble so easily under the pressure placed upon them by big move studios to settle. If more defendants stand their ground, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ will likely not acquire the ‘Oscars’ needed to follow through with its claims.