Owners of Adam Sandler Movie Dealt Blow in Online Copyright Case

An obscure 2014 Adam Sandler movie was at the center of a federal court case that could become at least a minor landmark decision affecting internet copyright law, after the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on August 27 that a man accused of illegally downloading the film The Cobbler cannot be held liable for copyright infringement because he merely owned the internet IP address to which the movie file was downloaded, according to Bloomberg News

In the case, Cobbler Nevada v. Gonzales,  the owner of an adult foster care home was accused of downloading the Cobbler movie by the company that owns the copyright, Cobbler Nevada LLC. But the man, Thomas Gonzales, merely owned the IP address which was used to access the internet by all residents of the home.

When it became clear that there was no way to determine who, specifically, has downloaded a digital file of The Cobbler using the home’s lone IP address, the company sued Gonzales for failing to “reasonably secure, police, and protect” the internet connection in his foster care home. In addition, the film’s owners said that they had sent Gonzales 400 copyright infringement notices, and he had “failed and refused to take any action whatsoever and …continued to allow infringing activity after such notices.”

But a federal district court tossed the lawsuit, according to the site IP Watchdog, because the company offered no evidence that Gonzales himself was connected to the illegal downloading activity—and Gonzales’ mere failure to take action against illegal downloaders who were using his IP address was not enough to say that he “encouraged” the copyright-violating actions.

In fact, the district court judge ordered Cobbler Nevada to reimburse Gonzales $17,000 for his attorney’s fees, Bloomberg reported

The movie company appealed, and in August the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision, ruling that even though the company’s allegations fit the classic definition of copyright infringement, the fact that the company was not able to link Gonzales directly to the illegal download—only to the IP address —the company’s accusations against him were merely “speculative.”

The appeals court also agreed with the lower court that the mere fact that Gonzales took no action to “secure” his IP address was not enough to find him liable for copyright infringement. He was no required to “secure” the address, and the company would need evidence that he actively encouraged illegal downloading to make its case against him stick, the appeals court ruled.

The precedent established by the Ninth Circuit ruling is likely to have significant implications for the adult industry, with porn reportedly the most frequently pirated type of content online.

Photo by Franz Richter / Wikimedia Commons