Court Strikes Four Affirmative Defenses of BitTorrent Defendant

Fort Wayne, Indiana – District Magistrate Judge Roger B. Cosbey struck four affirmative defenses asserted by anonymous Defendant John Doe in Plaintiff Malibu Media’s lawsuit in the Northern District of Indiana for copyright infringement.

Plaintiff Malibu Media, LLC, filed a copyright infringement action against Defendant John Doe. Defendant answered with ten affirmative defenses. Malibu Media sought to strike four of those defenses–laches, unclean hands, waiver, and estoppel; failure to mitigate damages; failure to join an indispensable party; and implied license, consent, and acquiescence.

Plaintiff first moved to strike Defendant’s second affirmative defense–that “Plaintiff’s claims are barred by the equitable doctrines of laches, unclean hands, waiver and estoppel”–as a bare conclusory allegation unsupported by any factual basis. The court ordered that defense stricken, stating “[m]erely stringing together a long list of legal defenses…does not do the job of apprising opposing counsel and this Court of the predicate for the claimed defense–which is after all the goal of notice pleading.”

Plaintiff next moved to strike Defendant’s fifth affirmative defense–that Plaintiff did not mitigate its damages. Malibu Media argued that this defense was improper because it had elected to pursue only statutory, rather than actual, damages. The court agreed that a copyright plaintiff’s exclusive pursuit of statutory damages invalidates a failure-to-mitigate defense and struck this affirmative defense.

The court also struck Defendant’s seventh affirmative defense, in which Defendant argued that Plaintiff had failed to join an indispensable party. Defendant asserted that he had not engaged in any infringing activity and Plaintiff has not joined those who had. The court held that Defendant’s assertion that he had not engaged in any improper activity was not an affirmative defense but rather a mere denial of liability. It further held that Defendant was incorrect in asserting that joinder was necessary, holding that the court would be able to adjudicate the matter and “accord complete relief to Plaintiff regardless of whether any other allegedly infringing members were joined in the action.

Finally, Plaintiff asked that Defendant’s eighth affirmative defense as be struck as conclusory. Defendant had asserted that “Plaintiff’s claims are barred by Plaintiff’s implied license, consent, and acquiescence to Defendant because Plaintiff authorized use via Bit Torrent [sic].” The court held that Defendant’s Answer foreclosed the possibility of an implied license defense, as Defendant had denied downloading the copyrighted work. As such, Defendant could not also argue that he had downloaded the copyrighted work with a license.

Practice Tip #1: Generally speaking, motions to strike portions of pleadings are disfavored as they consume scarce judicial resources and may be used for dilatory purposes. Such motions will generally be denied unless the portion of the pleading at issue is prejudicial. When faced with a motion to strike affirmative defenses under Rule 12(f), Indiana federal courts apply a three-part test: (1) whether the matter is properly pled as an affirmative defense; (2) whether the affirmative defense complies with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 9; and (3) whether the affirmative defense can withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge. An affirmative defense that fails to meet any of these standards must be stricken.

Practice Tip #2: Defendant did not file a response to Malibu Media’s motion to strike Defendant’s affirmative defenses. For that reason alone, the court could have ruled on the motion summarily under the Northern District’s Local Rule 7-1(d)(4).

Practice Tip #3: Even under the liberal notice pleading standards of the Federal Rules, an affirmative defense must include either direct or inferential allegations as to all elements of the defense asserted. Bare bones conclusory allegations are insufficient. Moreover, laches, waiver, estoppel, and unclean hands are equitable defenses that must be pled with the specific elements required to establish the defense.

Practice Tip #4: An implied license, which Defendant argued as an affirmative defense, arises when (1) a person (the licensee) requests the creation of a work, (2) the creator (the licensor) makes that particular work and delivers it to the licensee who requested it, and (3) the licensor intends that the licensee-requestor copy and distribute his work.

Practice Tip #5: This opinion demonstrates one of the pitfalls of pleading in the alternative. Defendant appears to have tried to argue that he didn’t download the copyrighted material but that, if he had, it was with an implied license from Plaintiff. The court was not persuaded, however, as Defendant’s Answer had denied downloading the copyrighted material with BitTorrent. As a result, Defendant was not permitted to argue also that he downloaded the copyrighted material using BitTorrent but that he had an implied license to do so.

A well-known example of such alternative pleading was demonstrated by Richard Haynes: “Say you sue me because you say my dog bit you. Well, now this is my defense: My dog doesn’t bite. And second, in the alternative, my dog was tied up that night. And third, I don’t believe you really got bit. And fourth, I don’t have a dog.”

The case was assigned to District Judge Philip P. Simon and Magistrate Judge Roger Cosbey in the Northern District of Indiana and assigned Case No. 1:13-cv-00030-PPS-RBC.

MalibuMedia v Doe Order & Opinion

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