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Cobbler Nevada LLC v. Gonzales

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 27, 2018

Cobbler Nevada, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Thomas Gonzales, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted May 18, 2018 Portland, Oregon

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon Michael H. Simon, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 3:15-cv-00866-SB.

          John Mansfield (argued), Harris Bricken, Portland, Oregon; Carl D. Crowell, Crowell Law, Salem, Oregon; for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          David Hamlin Madden (argued), Mersenne Law, Tigard, Oregon, for Defendant-Appellee.

          Before: M. Margaret McKeown and Richard A. Paez, Circuit Judges, and Robert S. Lasnik, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Copyright

         The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action under the Copyright Act, alleging direct and contributory infringement of plaintiff's copyrights in a film.

         Plaintiff alleged unauthorized downloading and distribution of the film through peer-to-peer BitTorrent networks. The panel held that the bare allegation that the defendant was the registered subscriber of an Internet Protocol address associated with infringing activity was insufficient to state a claim for direct or contributory infringement. The panel also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney's fees to the defendant under 17 U.S.C. § 505.

          OPINION

          McKEOWN JUDGE.

         In this copyright action, we consider whether a bare allegation that a defendant is the registered subscriber of an Internet Protocol ("IP") address associated with infringing activity is sufficient to state a claim for direct or contributory infringement. We conclude that it is not.

         After tracing infringement of its copyrights to a particular IP address, Cobbler Nevada, LLC filed suit against the John Doe IP address for direct and contributory copyright infringement. Cobbler Nevada soon discovered that the IP address was registered to Thomas Gonzales, who operated an adult foster care home. Cobbler Nevada then amended its complaint to name Gonzales as the sole defendant, alleging that he directly infringed by copying and distributing copyrighted works himself or, in the alternative, contributed to another's infringement by failing to secure his internet connection.

         The district court properly dismissed Cobbler Nevada's claims. The direct infringement claim fails because Gonzales's status as the registered subscriber of an infringing IP address, standing alone, does not create a reasonable inference that he is also the infringer. Because multiple devices and individuals may be able to connect via an IP address, simply identifying the IP subscriber solves only part of the puzzle. A plaintiff must allege something more to create a reasonable inference that a subscriber is also an infringer. Nor can Cobbler Nevada succeed on a contributory infringement theory because, without allegations of intentional encouragement or inducement of infringement, an individual's failure to take affirmative steps to police his internet connection is insufficient to state a claim.

         BACKGROUND

         Cobbler Nevada holds copyrights in the film The Cobbler, a magic realism film that features "[a] cobbler, bored of his everyday life, [who] stumbles upon a magical heirloom that allows him to become other people . . . ." The Cobbler, IMDB, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3203616/ (last visited July 26, 2018). Like a number of major motion pictures scheduled for theatrical release, The Cobbler has been the subject of unauthorized downloading and distribution (i.e., pirating) through BitTorrent networks. See generally Glacier Films (USA), Inc. v. Turchin, 896 F.3d 1033, 1035-36 (9th Cir. 2018) (providing background on piracy via ...


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