Copyright Infringement Using BitTorrent Asserted, Judgment of $38,645 Granted Against Defendant Who Failed to Appear

Indianapolis, Indiana — Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the Southern District of Indiana has entered a default judgment for copyright infringement in favor of Malibu Media, LLC of Los Angeles, California.  The copyrighted works at issue had been registered by the U.S. Copyright Office.

In June 2012, copyright attorney Paul Nicoletti filed another copyright infringement lawsuit in the Southern District of Indiana on behalf of serial plaintiff Malibu Media.  The lawsuit listed multiple defendants, including William Meeks Sr. of Decatur, Indiana.  In its complaint, Malibu Media alleged that Meeks had infringed 16 copyrighted works.  Specifically, Malibu Media contended that Meeks and others directly and contributorily infringed its copyrighted works when they downloaded and disseminated all or a portion of the works using BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol.  The initial complaint was served upon 23 defendants.  Discussed in this opinion are the allegations, findings and judgments against Meeks only.

Judge Barker held that, as a result of his failure to defend against Malibu Media’s assertions, Meeks was deemed to have admitted to willful copyright infringement.  Judge Barker also held that, without an injunction, Meeks’ use of the BitTorrent protocol would continue to cause Malibu Media irreparable injury, stating that there existed a “threat of continued violations” of Malibu Media’s exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform and display the 16 copyrighted works. 

The court entered a permanent injunction against Meeks after finding that such an injunction promoted creativity and individual effort and was therefore in the public interest.  Meeks was also ordered to pay to Malibu Media $36,000.00 in statutory damages, as authorized under 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)(1), and $2,645.00 for attorneys’ fees and costs, as authorized under 17 U.S.C. § 505, for a total of $38,645.00.  He was further ordered to pay post-judgment interest accruing under 28 U.S.C. § 1961 as of the date of the default judgment until the date of its satisfaction.  Finally, Meeks was ordered to destroy all copies of Malibu Media’s works that he had downloaded onto any computer hard drive without proper authorization, including all copies that he had in his possession, custody or control.

Practice Tip #1:  

Under 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)(1), a copyright owner may elect actual or statutory damages.  Statutory damages range from a sum of not less than $750 to not more than $30,000 per infringed work.  The determination of the exact amount is left to the discretion of the court. 

There is a significant disparity in the dollar amount awarded in default judgments against defendants in copyright infringement cases involving BitTorrent.  In two separate cases, Judge William T. Lawrence recently ordered two defendants who failed to appear to pay $20,000 in statutory damages for copyright infringement that was deemed to have been admitted by the defendants’ failure to defend against the allegations.  See here and here.  However, in a similar case, Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ordered an entry of default judgment against a defendant for $151,425.  Judge Barker has issued several prior default judgments in this case, each for $36,000 plus attorneys’ fees.

Practice Tip #2:

Deciding to simply ignore a complaint, as William Meeks Sr. apparently did, can be a costly error.  Failing to present the defendant’s version of the facts and arguments results in the court considering only the plaintiff’s side of the story.  Here, because the defendant chose to leave the complaint unanswered, the well-pled allegations of the plaintiff relating to liability were taken as true.

After the entry of default judgment, the court then conducted an inquiry to ascertain the amount of damages with “reasonable certainty.”  Again, in such circumstances, it serves a defendant well to plead his case — to present the court with reasons that the plaintiff should not get 100% of what he requests.

Overhauser Law Offices, the publisher of this website, has represented several hundred persons and businesses regarding copyright infringement and similar matters.

The complaint was filed by Paul J. Nicoletti of Nicoletti & Associates.  The case was assigned to District Judge Sarah Evans Barker, Southern District of Indiana, and assigned Case No. 1:12-cv-00841-SEB-MJD.

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