Malibu Media, a producer of pornographic content, may have sued thousands of internet users across the country for file-sharing, but that doesn't mean one of those defendants can countersue the company alleging its copyright suit was a sham, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner of the Middle District of Pennsylvania recently tossed a countersuit alleging fraud against Malibu Media by an anonymous internet user who had previously been sued by the company for allegedly sharing the copyrighted content.
The countersuit claimed that Malibu, which filed thousands of copyright lawsuits and, according to The New Yorker magazine, was the biggest filer of copyright lawsuits in 2014, has made a business out of claiming its content is free, and then suing people who download and share the purportedly free content.
Judge Conner, however, found that the man who brought the countersuit, referred to as John Doe, failed to show that Malibu's lawsuits weren't legitimate.
"The court takes judicial notice of the 77 infringement lawsuits filed by Malibu in this district since Jan. 31, 2014," Judge Conner said. "In this district alone, Malibu settled with 73 plaintiffs and obtained default judgments against three more. The fact that Malibu has not proceeded to trial is no more an indication of frivolity than a settlement is proof of liability."
A. Jordan Rushie of Rushie Law, who is representing Malibu on the counterclaims, said he believed the counterclaims were meritless and said Judge Conner's ruling was in line with a decision from U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who has previously ruled that Malibu is a legitimate content producer.
"This is akin to walking into a Target, putting a bunch of DVDs in your pocket and then claiming you're the victim," Mr. Rushie said. "We're just happy Judge Conner looked closely into the motions and gave a fair decision."
Aaron T. Brook, an attorney in Pennsylvania Furnace, Pa., who is representing John Doe, did not return a call for comment.
According to Judge Conner, John Doe needed to prove that the lawsuit against him was a sham to overcome an immunity provided to the company under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine, which allows companies to sue even if the lawsuit might go against federal anti-competition principles.
Malibu initially sued John Doe for alleged copyright violations in 2015 after he allegedly downloaded and redistributed the company's content. John Doe, however, contended that the company had "knowingly held itself out" as a provider of free content and partnered with third-party sites that encouraged users to share the content.
He claimed the company developed a for-profit business of bringing copyright infringement claims. Characterizing the conduct as abusive settlement tactics, he said that, rather than sending cease and desist letters, the company relied on the "social stigma" associated with viewing pornography to "extort" settlements.
Judge Conner said he needed to determine whether Malibu's suit was "objectively baseless" and, if so, whether the suit was filed in an attempt to interfere with a business competitor.
Along with determining there was no proof for the contention that the suit was baseless, Judge Conner also said some of John Doe's pleadings undercut his claim that the company intended for users to rely on the "false representation" that the content was free.
"His contention that he reasonably believed all of Malibu's content to be free based on marketing of some of its content on free websites cannot square with his knowledge that Malibu charged monthly fees for subscription-based services," Judge Conner said.
Max Mitchell: 215-557-2354 or firstname.lastname@example.org.On Twitter @MMitchellTLI.
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