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Malibu Media, LLC v. [Redacted]

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 15, 2017

MALIBU MEDIA, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
[REDACTED] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Malibu Media, LLC ("Malibu") filed this action for copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C. §§ 101-122 against Defendant on January 28, 2014. Compl., ECF No.1. Malibu has since filed a Motion for Default Judgment, ECF No. 34, to which Defendant has not responded. Having reviewed the filings, I find that a hearing is unnecessary in this case. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.). Malibu has demonstrated Defendant's liability and has established its entitlement to the damages and injunctive relief it seeks. Accordingly, I will grant Plaintiffs Motion for Default Judgment.

         Background

         Malibu, a California-based company doing business as X-Art.com, alleges that Defendant violated the United States Copyright Act of 1976 ("Copyright Act") by using the BitTorrent file distribution network to distribute adult pornographic films subject to copyrights held by Malibu. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 29-30, ECF No. 19.

         BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file sharing system that allows users to interact with one another to distribute large files, including digital movie files. Am. Compl. ¶ 10. Individuals often use BitTorrent to obtain and circulate infringed copyright content. George Ou, Princeton Study - 99% of BitTorrent Files Pirated, Digital Society (Jan. 29, 2012), ECF No. 34-3. The system allows users to distribute an entire file by sending small "bits" individually. Am. Compl. ¶ 12. Malibu alleges that its investigator, IPP International UG, downloaded one more or more "bits" of 25 of Malibu's copyrighted films from Defendant's Internet Protocol address ("IP address"). Am. Compl. ¶ 18. Those downloads are the basis for this claim.

         Initially, Malibu identified Defendant only by an IP address assigned to a customer on a specific date by an Internet Service Provider ("ISP"). Compl. ¶ 9. Accordingly, Malibu moved to expedite discovery and serve a third-party subpoena on the ISP to obtain the identity of Defendant prior to a Rule 26(f) conference. ECF No. 4. The court granted the motion subject to conditions and limitations dictated by the sensitive nature of the action and the uncertainty surrounding the specificity of IP addresses. ECF No. 6. Malibu then filed an Amended Complaint against Defendant, to which Defendant has not responded. The Clerk entered a default, ECF No. 32, and Malibu then filed the pending motion for default judgment seeking an award of statutory damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees and costs, ECF No. 34.

         Standard of Review

         Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure establishes a two-step process when a party applies for default judgment. First, the rule provides that "when a party ... has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party's default." Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Following the Clerk's entry of default, "the plaintiff [then may] seek a default judgment." Godlove v. Martinsburg Senior Towers, LP, No. 14-CV-132, 2015 WL 746934, at *1 (N.D. W.Va. Feb. 20, 2015); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b). "The Fourth Circuit has a 'strong policy' that 'cases be decided on their merits.' " S.E.C. v. Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp.2d 418, 420 (D. Md. 2005) (citing Dow v. Jones, 232 F.Supp.2d 491, 494 (D. Md. 2002)). However, "default judgment may be appropriate when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party." Id. at 420-22.

         In determining whether to grant a motion for default judgment, the Court takes as true the well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint, other than those pertaining to damages. Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780 (4th Cir. 2001). If the Court finds that "liability is established, [it] must then determine the appropriate amount of damages." Agora Fin., LLC v. Samler, 725 F.Supp.2d 491, 484 (citing Ryan, 253 F.3d at 780-81). In order to do so, "the court may conduct an evidentiary hearing, or may dispense with a hearing if there is an adequate evidentiary basis in the record from which to calculate an award." Mata v. GO. Contractors Grp., Ltd., No. TDC-14-3287, 2015 WL 6674650, at *3 (D. Md. Oct. 29, 2015); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b).

         Discussion

         Plaintiff moves for default judgment against Defendant for direct copyright infringement and seeks an award of statutory damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees and costs.

         To establish copyright infringement liability, a plaintiff must prove two elements: (1) ownership of the copyright; and (2) copying of original constituent elements by the alleged defendant. 17 U.S.C. § 501(a); see also Feist Publ'ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361 (1991). Malibu has met its burden through its pleadings by alleging it owns the 25 copyrights that Defendant obtained and distributed through BitTorrent. See Am. Compl. ¶ 17. Exhibit B of the Amended Complaint supports Malibu's assertion of ownership over the 25 copyrights, and Exhibit A supports its assertion that those copyrights were downloaded, copied, and distributed from Defendant's IP address using BitTorrent. Am. Compl. Exs. A, B, ECF Nos. 19-1, 19-2. Because the court takes the well-pleaded allegations in a complaint as true upon entry of default, Malibu has established Defendant's liability for copyright infringement by default. See Ryan, 253 F.3d at 780. Accordingly, only questions of the appropriate relief remain.

         Statutory Damages

         Malibu requests statutory damages of $750.00 per video, for a total of $18, 750.00. Pl's Mem. 9. Under § 504(a) of the Copyright Act, an infringer of copyright is liable for either: (1) the copyright owner's actual damages and any additional profits that the infringer has obtained; or (2) statutory damages as provided by the statute. 17 U.S.C. § 504(a). Section 504(c)(1) authorizes statutory damages in an amount "not less than $750 or more than $30, 000 as the court considers just." 17 U.S.C § 504(c)(1); see also Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Gillispie, No. 11-cv-01776-AW, 2012 WL 666001, at *3 (D. Md. Feb. 23, 2012). The court has broad discretion in setting the amount of statutory damages ...


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