Last Thursday, the Fourth Circuit decided a closely followed case on one of the safe harbor defenses under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). See BMG Rights Management (US) LLC v. Cox Communications, Inc., No. 16-1972 (4th Cir. Feb. 1, 2018). The court also addressed the intent standard for contributory copyright infringement.

BMG, an owner of copyrights in digital music files, sued Cox, an internet service provider, for contributory copyright infringement by Cox subscribers engaging in “peer-to-peer” music file sharing. The district court held that Cox was not entitled to the safe harbor defense under Section 512(a) of the DMCA because Cox did not satisfy the conditions under Section 512(i)(1)(A) that it “adopted and reasonably implemented … a policy that provides for the termination in appropriate circumstances of subscribers … who are repeat infringers.” At trial, a jury found Cox liable and awarded BMG $25 million.


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On November 28, 2017, the Sixth Circuit, in a 2:1 decision, ruled on the anonymous copyright infringement case we discussed back in April. The central issue in the case involved whether an adjudicated copyright infringer can remain anonymous. A decision in favor of the infringer could encourage anonymous unlawful speech. A decision in favor of the judgment plaintiff could encourage suits designed only to “out” the name of an anonymous critic.

In a case of first impression, the Sixth Circuit didn’t make a final decision. See Signature Management Team, LLC v. Doe, No. 16-2188, 2017 WL 5710571 (6th Cir. Nov. 28, 2017).

The Court remanded the case back to the district court to balance the infringer’s anonymity interest against both the judgment plaintiff’s interest in unmasking the infringer and the public’s interest in open judicial proceedings, with a presumption in favor of disclosure of the infringer. In short, the Court held that the infringer’s anonymity was not automatically lost upon his defeat in the litigation … at least under these circumstances.
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“There are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately,” including “microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera.  So we know that that is just a fact of modern life.”  Kellyanne Conway, March 12, 2017 Interview with New Jersey’s The Record.

Data from microwaves-turned-cameras has yet to appear in court, but data from other IoT

… outside your main jurisdiction can have collateral consequences.

In Gunning v. Doe, 2017 WL 1739442 (Me. May 4, 2017), Maine’s highest court just dodged the issue of the applicable First Amendment test for the disclosure of an anonymous speaker accused of defamation.  Instead, it deferred to California’s test.  Why?  Collateral estoppel:  the defamation plaintiff lost her effort to subpoena a California website host for identifying information of the John Doe defendant, and that decision barred the plaintiff from relitigating the disclosure issue in Maine. 
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Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit heard an anonymous copyright infringement case of first impression. See Signature Management Team, LLC v. Doe, No. 16-2188 (6th Cir.). The issue: whether an adjudicated copyright infringer can remain anonymous.

The infringer said he can.

“John Doe” appeared in the case through counsel and defended against Signature’s infringement claim. He lost. But he maintained his right to anonymity under the First Amendment. According to Doe, a court should balance a defendant’s right to remain anonymous against a plaintiff’s need for the defendant’s identity at all stages of litigation, including post-judgment. And here, as the lower court held, Signature prevailed but it didn’t need Doe’s identity where no damages were sought and Doe agreed to cease the infringement.
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Congress may re-introduce federal anti-SLAPP legislation this session.  Similar bills in 2009, 2012, and 2015 never made it out of committee.  Our Law360 article identifies several areas to improve on a fourth attempt to enact a universal anti-SLAPP law.  The article also highlights the constant battle between First Amendment rights and rights to protect one’s