Copyright Holder Ordered to Pay $17k After Botched Infringement Lawsuit

A man in Portland accused of illegally downloading an Adam Sandler movie was awarded $17k in damages in a ruling handed down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The man in question is Thomas Gonzales, the owner of an adult foster care home. The damages will be paid by Cobbler Nevada LLC, the owner of the copyright in question.

In 2016, the makers of an Adam Sandler movie called The Cobbler had filed an infringement complaint against Thomas Gonzales. Cobbler Nevada LLC initially filed a lawsuit against the IP address linked to the piracy act, but later amended its complaint to name Gonzales as the defendant after it learned his identity from Comcast Corp.

But it turned out that the download happened in Gonzales’ foster home, which uses his Comcast subscription for its WiFi network. After Gonzales refused to share the names of other individuals with access to the WiFi network, the copyright holder amended its complaint again yet again, naming only the IP address as the defendant once again.

The court found the allegations to be baseless. First, it was impossible to establish that Gonzales was the infringer since the WiFi network is shared with several other individuals. Second, there was no way to argue that Gonzales actively encouraged or induced copyright infringement. Finally, the court ruled that Gonzales had no obligation to monitor his internet connection, something that Cobbler tried to use as an argument against him.

The court then ordered Cobbler to pay Gonzales’ attorneys’ fees.

Judge Margaret McKeown explained that “in this copyright action, we consider whether a bare allegation that a defendant is the registered subscriber of an Internet Protocol (‘IP’) address associated with infringing activity is sufficient to state a claim for direct or contributory infringement. We conclude that it is not.”

This case is extremely important as it sends a clear message to copyright trolls, highlighting that there is a risk in going after users for infringement. More importantly, it showed that pinpointing an infringing IP address is simply not enough to incriminate its owner.