by Mike Masnick
A few courts have noted similar things, but Fight Copyright Trolls and TorrentFreak both recently covered an interesting district court ruling out of Seattle, where Judge Robert Lansik noted that the producers of the movie Elf Man failed to state a claim for relief, since the only evidence they had was an IP address — which wasn’t enough to actually implicate any particular person in copyright infringement.
Plaintiff’s complaint does not raise a plausible inference that any of the named defendants are liable for direct, contributory, or indirect copyright infringement. In the fact sections of the complaint, plaintiff carefully refrains from alleging that the owners of the IP address – i.e., the named defendants – are the ones who utilized the internet access to download the copyrighted material. Rather, plaintiff alleges that the IP address assigned to each defendant “was observed infringing Plaintiff’s motion picture” … and that each named defendant either (a) downloaded the BitTorrent “client” application and used it to download and share the copyrighted material or (b) permitted, facilitated, or promoted the use of their internet connections by others to download and share the copyrighted material …. Pursuant to plaintiff’s allegations, a particular defendant may have directly and intentionally stolen plaintiff’s copyrighted material, or she may simply have “facilitated” unauthorized copying by purchasing an internet connection which an unidentified third party utilized to download “Elf-Man.” Plaintiff provides no factual allegations that make one scenario more likely than the other: both are merely possible given the alternative allegations of the complaint.
[….] The critical defect in this case is not the alternative pleading of claims of direct, contributory, and indirect infringement. Rather, the problem arises from the alternative pleading of the facts that are supposed to support those claims. The effect of the two “or” conjunctions means that plaintiff has actually alleged no more than that the named defendants purchased internet access and failed to ensure that others did not use that access to download copyrighted material.
Of course, we’ve seen plenty of copyright holders directly allege that failure of a internet account holder to stop infringement is somehow a violation of the law itself, but that’s not what the law says at all. Here, the judge is correctly noting that make a huge inference from just the IP address to having enough for a lawsuit makes the plaintiff’s claim not enough to move forward. This is only a district court ruling, but as a few other courts have made some similar claims, perhaps it can be useful in pushing back on standard copyright trolling, as courts become less willing to entertain fishing expeditions by trolls.