Ninth Circuit Says Internet Subscriber's IP Address Insufficient to Find Liability for Copyright Infringement

The U.S. federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has held that bare allegations that a defendant was the registered subscriber of an Internet Protocol address associated with copyright infringing activity is insufficient to support claims of copyright infringement.

The case involved a Nevada company that holds the copyright to the film The Cobbler, which was unlawfully distributed from an IP address registered to an Internet subscriber in California. The company asserted copyright infringement claims against the subscriber, alleging that he directly infringed the company’s copyright by copying and distributing the movie himself or, in the alternative, contributed to his household members’ infringement by failing to secure his internet connection.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the claims as well as a quite rare awarding of more than $17,000 in attorney fees for the defendant. The court held that to assert infringement, the company had to show that the defendant himself infringed the company’s copyright, which it failed to do. In fact, the company conceded that its investigation did not permit identification of the specific party that is likely to be the infringer.

The Ninth Circuit went on to hold that the subscriber’s failure to take affirmative steps to prevent infringement by his household members does not give rise to contributory infringement. Contributory infringement arises when a person actively encourages or induces others to infringe, yet the Nevada company did not allege that the Californian subscriber did so.

CLICK HERE to read the decision.