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Malibu Media, LLC v. Doe

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 20, 2016





         In this copyright infringement action, the copyright owner moves to dismiss the accused infringer’s counterclaim for declaratory judgment of non-infringement. For the reasons stated below, the copyright owner’s motion is Denied.


         Plaintiff Malibu Media, LLC, made and distributed pornographic videos on a subscription-based website. It has filed 178 copyright infringement actions in our district in the past year. In the interest of judicial economy, all of Malibu Media’s actions in this district were assigned to the undersigned judge.

         In each of its complaints, Malibu Media named an individual identified only by his or her Internet Protocol address, which is an identifier assigned to each Internet subscriber by the subscriber’s Internet service provider. Here, defendant is named as John Doe Subscriber Assigned IP Address As with all of its other cases, Malibu Media contends that defendant used his Internet connection to download and distribute numerous of its copyrighted works using a file-sharing protocol called BitTorrent. Here, Malibu Media accuses defendant of infringing 23 works.

         The BitTorrent protocol called for splitting large files, such as Malibu Media’s videos, into many smaller pieces. Once a file was broken down into those pieces, users of the protocol could then copy and share the pieces of the larger file with each other, and once a user received all of the pieces of a given file, each of which may have come from a different user, software (called a BitTorrent “client”) on the user’s computer reassembled the pieces into a complete file. This scheme facilitated an efficient and decentralized distribution scheme as compared to sharing a single large file from a single host site.

         Malibu Media hired IPP International UG, which utilized the BitTorrent protocol to download several of Malibu Media’s own files from the Internet. IPP monitored the IP addresses of the distributors of each piece of each file it received. Malibu Media alleges that IPP received at least one piece of each of 23 individual videos from the above-captioned IP address.[1]

         Malibu Media seeks statutory damages of at least $17, 250 for defendant’s alleged infringement of twenty-three videos ($750 per work), with a potential for much greater liability if infringement is found to be willful or if the jury finds Malibu Media is entitled to damages on the higher end of the range provided by statute.

         In his answer, defendant, who is represented by Attorney Joseph C. Edmonson, filed a counterclaim for declaratory judgment of non-infringement, which mirrors his denial of liability for Malibu Media’s affirmative claim of infringement. Malibu Media now moves to dismiss defendant’s counterclaim. This order follows full briefing and a properly-noticed hearing at which neither side appeared, although the case was called and held over until the end of the calendar in case counsel arrived late.


         Malibu Media argues that defendant’s counterclaim merely repackages his denial of infringement and thus should be dismissed. It cites various decisions noting that the Court has no duty to declare the rights and legal relations of interested parties and that the Court discretion to dismiss counterclaims that are mirror images of the claims. See, e.g., Leadsinger, Inc. v. BMG Music Pub., 512 F.3d 522, 533 (9th Cir. 2008).

         Malibu Media is correct that defendant’s counterclaim is duplicative of his denial of liability (indeed, defendant’s answer to Malibu Media’s affirmative claim incorporates-by-reference the allegations of defendant’s counterclaim and otherwise denies all allegations). Malibu Media is also correct that the district court has discretion to dismiss defendant’s counterclaim. Nevertheless, Malibu Media’s practical arguments for why the undersigned should exercise that discretion here are unpersuasive.

         Malibu Media argues that permitting defendant’s counterclaim to proceed would require it to file an answer in which it would deny all the allegations and refer back to the complaint. This will, however, impose a negligible burden. Malibu Media also contends the declaratory judgment counterclaim would confuse a jury. Not really, however, a jury would never need to know that the case involves an affirmative claim of infringement and a declaratory judgment ...

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