Default Judgment of $20,000 Granted in Copyright Infringement Case Involving BitTorrent

Indianapolis, Indiana —The Southern District of Indiana has granted a default judgment to Malibu Media, LLC of Los Angeles, California in its lawsuit against Robert Johnson of Indianapolis, Indiana for copyright infringement of the work “Pretty Back Door Baby.”

In its complaint, Malibu Media alleged that Johnson and others directly and contributorily infringed its copyrighted work when they downloaded and disseminated without authorization, all or a portion of a movie owned by Malibu Media entitled “Pretty Back Door Baby” using BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol.  The initial complaint was served upon eleven defendants but was later severed.  Discussed in this opinion are the allegations, findings and judgments against Johnson only.

Malibu Media served Johnson with a summons and complaint on March 8, 2013.  Johnson did not respond.  On April 12, 2013, default was entered as to Johnson by Southern District of Indiana Judge William T. Lawrence.  By virtue of this entry of default, it was established as a factual matter that Johnson had uploaded and downloaded all or a portion of the copyrighted work without authorization, and had also enabled countless unknown others to obtain the work in the process.

In the current default-judgment opinion, the court addressed requests by Malibu Media for an injunction, for damages, for attorney’s fees and for costs.

The injunction sought asked the court to prohibit Johnson “from directly, contributorily or indirectly infringing [Malibu Media’s] rights under federal or state law in the Work, including, without limitation, by using the internet, BitTorrent or any other online media distribution system to reproduce (e.g., download) or distribute the Works, or to make the Work available for distribution to the public, except pursuant to a lawful license or with the express authority of [Malibu Media].”  The court held that such an injunction was simply a mandate that Johnson follow copyright laws and that the injunction was therefore unnecessary.

The court also denied Malibu Media’s request for attorneys’ fees and costs, noting that the fees submitted seemed to reflect legal work done not only in the furtherance of the lawsuit against Johnson, but also seemed to pertain to other related lawsuits involving the previously joined defendants.  As a result of these ambiguities, the court denied Malibu Media’s request for costs and attorney’s fees but indicated that it would be willing to entertain such motions upon the entry of final judgment as to all defendants in related cases.

Finally, Malibu Media sought statutory damages in the amount of $20,000.  The court cited “Congress’s recognition of the ‘disturbing trend’ of internet piracy” and found that amount to be just under the circumstances.

Practice Tip:

Deciding to simply ignore a complaint, as Robert Johnson 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.

Under 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)(1), a copyright owner may elect actual or statutory damages.  Statutory damages range from a sum not less than $750 to not more than $30,000.  The determination of the exact amount is left to the discretion of the court.  In this case, Malibu Media asked the court for $20,000 and the court, having no arguments from the defendant to suggest that this was excessive, granted the entire amount.

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

This case was assigned to Judge William T. Lawrence, Southern District of Indiana, and assigned Case No:  1:12-cv-1117-WTL-MJD


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