Indiana Court of Appeals Holds that Forfeiture for Fraud in the Form of Copyright Infringement Requires Nexus Between Fraud and Forfeited Property

Indianapolis, Ind. – The Indiana Court of Appeals granted Indiana’s petition for rehearing and reaffirmed its January ruling in favor of defendant Michael Curtis that a conviction for fraud in the form of copyright infringement was, by itself, an insufficient predicate for forfeiture.

Curtis was charged with four counts of Class D felony fraud for selling pirated movies out of his truck.  He pleaded guilty to one count of fraud, which was entered as a misdemeanor, and the remaining charges were dropped.  The state also filed a complaint for forfeiture of Curtis’s truck under Indiana Code § 34-24-1-1(a)(1)(B) (2009), which allows the seizure of vehicles “if they are used . . . to transport . . . stolen [IC §35-43-4-2] or converted property.”  The trial court granted the forfeiture.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the decision, holding that fraud in the form of copyright infringement was neither garden-variety theft nor conversion and, thus, was not within the scope of the forfeiture statute.  We blogged about that decision here.

The state asked for and was granted a rehearing.  It argued that Yao v. State, 975 N.E.2d 1273 (Ind. 2012), required a different outcome.  The appellate court disagreed, stating that, while Yao “might support the proposition that pirated movies constitute stolen property,” it failed to answer the question of forfeiture.  On that issue, the court looked to Katner v. State, 655 N.E.2d 345 (Ind. 1995).

In Katner, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the forfeiture of a vehicle predicated on an empty container in the possession of the driver that was found to have cocaine residue.  There, the trial court had ordered the defendant’s vehicle forfeited under a statute allowing forfeiture where a vehicle was used to transport a “controlled substance for the purpose of. . . [p]ossession of cocaine.”  The Court held that the state had not met its burden under the forfeiture provision to show a nexus between the property to be forfeited and the underlying offense.

The appellate court in this case held that such a nexus analysis was also appropriate for the forfeiture provision which applies to stolen or converted property.  As the state had apparently had not shown a nexus between the use of the truck and the sales of the pirated movies, the court affirmed its earlier decision.

Practice Tip: It looks like Curtis can keep his truck.  However, in the January decision, the appellate court suggested that legislation would likely be required to allow forfeiture in cases involving copyright infringement.  In contrast, this current decision seems to hold that, should the required nexus between property and copyright infringement be proven at trial, a forfeiture statute could be used to seize property involved in that infringement.

This case was reviewed by The Honorable Senior Judge John Sharpnack of the Indiana Court of Appeals, and assigned Case No. 49A02-1203-MI-271.


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