No Duty to Shield Online Connection From Pirates
(CN) - A California man whose open Internet network was allegedly used to download a copyrighted video cannot be sued, a federal judge ruled.
Reputed porn producer AF Holdings does not know the identity of the user who downloaded its video off the peer-to-peer file-sharing tool BitTorrent, but it said this individual was using the unsecured home Internet connection of Josh Hatfield.
The April 2012 complaint alleged that Hatfield negligently failed to secure his network.
Hatfield moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and he claimed that the claim is barred by Section 301 of the Copyright Act and by immunity under the Communications Decency Act.
U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton dismissed the claim last week, removing the need for the Electronic Frontier Foundation to submit an amicus brief on behalf of Hatfield.
"In Weitrum v. RKO General, Inc., 15 Cal. 3d 40 (1975), the California Supreme Court explained that the general principle that 'one is not obligated to act as a 'good samaritan' is 'rooted in the common law distinction between action and inaction, or misfeasance and non-feasance,'" Hamilton wrote.
AF Holdings took issue with Hatfield's alleged inaction, or non-feasance, according to the ruling. But it never showed that Hatfield had a legal duty to prevent infringement since Hatfield did not have a "special relationship" with AF Holdings that would obligate him to protect its copyrights.
"The complaint plainly alleges that Hatfield's supposed liability is based on his failure to take particular actions, and not on the taking of any affirmative actions," Hamilton wrote. "This allegation of non-feasance cannot support a claim of negligence in the absence of facts showing the existence of a special relationship."
"Hatfield had no duty to AF Holdings to secure his Internet connection in order to protect AF Holdings' materials from infringement," she added.
The eight-page ruling dismissed the negligence claim with prejudice and vacated a Sept. 5 hearing.
AF Holdings had also asserted two claims of copyright infringement and one claim of contributory copyright infringement against the unidentified BitTorrent user. The company must serve this individual by Oct. 5, or those claims will be dismissed without prejudice.