A California Judge recently set a precedent that shields Internet subscribers from being sued due to their “negligence” in locking down their Wi-Fi security.
In the case of AF Holdings vs. Josh Hatfield and John Doe, AF Holdings sued Josh Hatfield for failing to secure his WiFi connection, which they said was negligence on his part and led to piracy of some of their adult movie content.
Hatfield filed a motion to dismiss the charges, arguing there was no way the adult entertainment company could say he had an obligation to secure his Wi-Fi Internet connection to protect their company from piracy. Judge Phyllis Hamilton agreed with Hatfield.
According to the court documents, “AF Holdings argues that it seeks to hold Hatfield liable for ‘negligent maintenance of his residential network,’ which it asserts allowed a third-party to commit large-scale infringement of AF Holdings’ copyrighted works.
“Specifically, AF Holdings alleges in the complaint that Hatfield owed it a duty to secure his Internet connection to prevent infringement of AF Holdings’ copyrighted works. Thus, the entirety of this claim involves the allegation that Hatfield failed to take certain steps – in other words, allegations of non-feasance (as opposed to misfeasance).”
Because Hatfield did not have a special relationship with AF Holdings, he had no obligation to try to secure his network to protect their copyrighted material. This ruling should have long lasting effects on a tactic that copyright trolls use, claiming “negligence” in the case of defendants who did not secure their personal computer networks – namely WiFi connections.
The Problem with the Negligence Strategy
The “negligence” tactic was used to circumvent previous court rulings that said “IP addresses do not equal people.” The main problem is that federal copyright laws would trump any claim of negligence by media companies. Additionally, Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act might also be used before a local personal injury claim.
This means that media companies will likely go back to the drawing board in order to come up with new ways to try to hunt down illegal downloaders. Most of the time, companies find a list of offending IP addresses and attempt to attach those IP numbers to specific people so they can take them to court. However, these methods have not been too successful in all areas of the country. And this recent case involving “negligence” is sure to slow down efforts.
Copyright Infringement and Fighting Piracy Online
While copyright protection is very important to the modern business world, the methods used to fight piracy need to be solution-based, not intimidation-based. For now, partly thanks to this ruling, private citizens don’t have to worry as much about “negligence” claims in illegal downloading lawsuits; but this does not mean media companies aren’t staying up late, trying to come up with ways to keep the copyright troll game alive.
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