“Untenable” Negligence Claim Dismissed In Action Alleging Copyright Piracy

Liberty Media Holdings, LLC (Liberty) brought suit for copyright infringement against Cary Tabora and Schuyler Whetstone for allegedly using BitTorrent to pirate a motion picture, Corbin Fisher’s Down on the Farm.  Tabora is alleged to have let his roommate, Whetstone, use Tabora’s Internet connection to pirate copyrighted content.  Liberty asserted direct copyright infringement, contributory copyright infringement and negligence claims against Tabora.  The district court for the Southern District of New York granted Tabora’s motion to dismiss Liberty’s complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Section 301 of the Copyright Act preempts “all legal or equitable rights that are equivalent to any of the exclusive rights within the general scope of copyright as specified by section 106 …and come within the subject matter of copyright as specified by sections 102 and 103 ….”  State law causes of action are preempted when the works are the type protected by the Copyright Act and the state law protects a right equivalent to an exclusive right protected by copyright law.  Negligence is a state law cause of action.

Liberty argued that its negligence claim against Tabora was not preempted by copyright law because “the negligence claim rests on infringement by others whereas the Copyright Act provides a remedy only against a direct infringer.”  (Opinion pdf page 6).  The district court called Liberty’s position “untenable,” in light of the court’s preemption discussion and the doctrine of contributory infringement.  Liberty’s memorandum did not address the doctrine of contributory infringement.

The district court dismissed Liberty’s copyright infringement claims for failure to assert copyright registration for the allegedly infringed work.  Section 411 of the Copyright Act requires that a work be registered before an action for copyright infringement can be maintained.

Liberty provided a copyright registration certificate for a motion picture entitled Corbin Fisher Amateur College Men Down on the Farm, which is a different motion picture than the one Tabora and Whetstone were alleged to have infringed.  The district court refused to allow Liberty to proceed relying on the wrong registration certificate.  The district court dismissed Liberty’s complaint, but granted Liberty leave to amend its direct and contributory copyright infringement claims by asserting copyright registration for the motion picture that was allegedly infringed.

This case is Liberty Media Holdings, LLC v. Cary Tabora and Schuyler Whetstone, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12 Civ. 2234 (LAK).

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