8th Circuit Court of Appeals: Suing an IP address subscriber is reasonable

In the case of Killer Joe Nevada v. Leaverton, Killer Joe Nevada, LLC sued internet subscriber Leigh Leaverton for infringement under the Copyright Act for the download and distribution of the motion picture Killer Joe. When on investigation it appeared Leaverton was only the subscriber who paid for the Internet service and not the infringer, Killer Joe moved to voluntarily dismiss its suit. Leaverton objected and demanded her attorney’s fees. The court dismissed the suit and denied Leaverton’s requests for attorney’s fees.

Leaverton appealed and the key issue on appeal was whether or not it was reasonable for a subscriber to be sued solely for being the party responsible for the internet service used by the infringer and whether the District Court abused its discretion in denying her attorney fees.

As per the Court of Appeals:

[Leaverton] argues that the district court erroneously ruled it was reasonable and not frivolous for Killer Joe Nevada to sue the subscriber for the IP address. Leaverton believes it is unreasonable for a Copyright Act plaintiff to sue the subscriber without first investigating whether the subscriber was responsible for the infringement.
          . . .
Leaverton cites no binding authority that a Copyright Act suit based on the infringer’s IP address is frivolous or unreasonable. The district court thus did not abuse its discretion by concluding that Killer Joe Nevada’s acts were reasonable.
          . . .
…because Killer Joe Nevada promptly dismissed its lawsuit once it learned Leaverton was not the infringer, Killer Joe Nevada had proper motives to sue the subscriber.

If nothing else, this case stands for the principal that providing internet service alone, though it may not make you liable for infringing activity, reasonably exposes you to potential litigation.

Full Text: Killer Joe Nevada v. Leaverton, No. 14-3274, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Dec. 4, 2015

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