MALIBU MEDIA, LLC v. JOHN DOE SUBSCRIBER ASSIGNED IP ADDRESS 18.104.22.168
OPINION. Signed by Judge William H. Walls on 1/15/16. (cm )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
MALIBU MEDIA, LLC,
Civ. No. 15-cv-03002 (WHW)(CLW)
Walls, Senior District Judge
In this copyright infringement action, Plaintiff Malibu Media, LLC alleges that
Defendant Robert Wailer violated federal copyright laws by distributing digital movie files of
Malibu Media’s copyrighted works over the BitTorrent file distribution network without
Plaintiffs authorization. Plaintiff moves for default judgment against Defendant, and Defendant
moves to set aside the default that has been entered against him. Decided without oral argument
under fed. R. Civ. P. 78, Plaintiffs motion for default judgment is denied and Defendant’s
motion to set aside the entry of default is granted.
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Unless otherwise specified, the following facts are taken as alleged in Plaintiffs amended
complaint, ECF No. 8. Plaintiff Malibu Media, LLC (d/b/a “X-Art.com”) (“Malibu Media”) is a
limited liability company organized and existing under the laws of California and has its
principal place of business located at 409 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 501, Los Angeles, CA 90015.
ECF No. 8
¶ 9. Plaintiff operates a website containing various motion pictures, the copyrights for
which are held by Plaintiff (the “copyrighted works”). Id. ¶2. Defendant Robert Wailer is an
individual residing at 78 Bucknell Avenue, Woodbridge, NJ 07095. Id.
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The BitTorrent file distribution network (“BitTorrent”) is a peer-to-peer file sharing
system for distributing large amounts of data. Id.
11. In order to distribute a large file,
BitTorrent breaks the file down into small pieces, known as “bits,” which users exchange
directly with each other. Id.
¶ 13. After a user receives all of the bits of a file, the user’s
BitTorrent client software reassembles the bits so that the file may be opened and used. Id.
Each bit of a file is assigned a unique “cryptographic hash value” that identifies the bit and
ensures it is properly routed between users. Id.
¶ 16. Each entire digital file also has a unique
cryptographic hash value that acts as a “digital fingerprint” to identify the file as complete and
On an unspecified date, IPP International UG (“IPP International”), an investigator hired
by Plaintiff, established a connection with a BitTorrent user assigned the Internet protocol (“IP”)
address 22.214.171.124 and downloaded bits from two digital media files. Id.
¶J 18, 23, ECF No.
Ex. A: File Hashes for IP Address 126.96.36.199. After downloading full copies of each file from
BitTorrent, IPP International used the unique hash values for each file to identify one file as
“Pleasant Surprise,” a copyrighted work belonging to Plaintiff, and the other as as “X-art
Unauthorized Pack #89,” a file containing digital copies of 127 separate copyrighted works
owned by Plaintiff. Id., ECF No. 8-1 Ex. B: Copyrights-In-Suit for IP Address 188.8.131.52. IPP
International periodically continued to connect with IP address 184.108.40.206, most recently on
March 2, 2015, and confirmed that both files remained available from the user. Id.
On April 29, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court alleging that the anonymous
BitTorrent user assigned IP address 220.127.116.11 intentionally violated Plaintiff’s exclusive right
to: (A) reproduce the 128 copyrighted works in copies, in violation of 17 U.S.C.
501; (B) redistribute the copyrighted works to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership,
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rental, lease, or lending, in violation of 17 U.S.C.
copyrighted works, in violation of 17 U.S.C.
works, in violation of 17 U.S.C.
§ 106(3) and 501; (C) perform the
§ 106(4) and 501; and (D) display the copyrighted
§ 106(5) and 501. Complaint, ECF No. 1 ¶J 34. Plaintiff
requested that the Court: (A) permanently enjoin the user assigned I? address 18.104.22.168 and all
other persons working with this user from continuing to infringe Plaintiffs copyrighted works;
(B) order this user to permanently delete all digital files relating to the copyrighted works from
all computers under the user’s possession, custody, or control; (C) order the user to permanently
delete any additional copies of the files; (D) award Plaintiff statutory damages per infringed
copyrighted work, as provided by 17 U.S.C.
and costs, as provided by 17 U.S.C.
and proper. Id.
§ 504-(a) and (c); (E) award Plaintiff attorneys’ fees
§ 505; and (F) grant any further relief the Court deems just
On June 2, 2015, Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor granted Plaintiffs motion to serve a
third-party subpoena on Comcast Cable Holdings (“Comcast”), the internet service provider of
the Defendant BitTorrent user assigned IP address 22.214.171.124, directing Comcast to disclose the
Defendant user’s “true name and address.” ECF No. 5 at 2.
On September 10, 2015, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint naming Robert Waller as
the Defendant BitTorrent user associated with the IP address 126.96.36.199 and repeating the factual
allegations, cause of action, and plea for relief contained in the first complaint. ECF No. 8.
Defendant Wailer was served with a summons on September 25, 2015, and Plaintiff filed the
executed summons with this Court on September 29, 2015. ECF No. 12. Defendant is not a
minor, incompetent, or in active duty military and did not initially appear, plead, or otherwise
defend in this action. Declaration Patrick J. Cerillo, Esq. in Support of Motion for Entry of
Default Judgment, ECF No. 15-5
¶J 6-7. Plaintiff filed a motion for entry of default against
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Defendant on October 20, 2015. ECF No. 13. The motion was granted by Magistrate Judge
Waldor, and default was entered by the Clerk of the Court on November 9, 2015. ECF No. 14.
Plaintiff moved for default judgment against Defendant Wailer on December 14, 2015.
ECF No. 15. Plaintiff seeks: (A) $96,000 in statutory damages under 17 U.S.C.
$1,657.00 in attorney’s fees and costs under 17 U.S.C.
§ 504(c)(1); (B)
§ 505, plus post-judgment interests on
both amounts; and (C) an injunction barring Defendant Wailer from continuing to infringe
Plaintiffs rights in the copyrighted works and ordering Defendant to destroy all copies of the
copyrighted works in his possession, custody, or control. Proposed Default Judgment and
Permanent Injunction Against Defendant Robert Wailer, ECF No. 15-6 at 3-4; ECF No. 15-5
2-9 (itemizing costs and attorneys’ fees).
On December 23, 2015, Defendant Wailer moved to set aside the Clerk’s entry of default.
Mot. Set Aside Default, ECF No. 16. Defendant argues that good cause exists to set aside the
entry of default because it was not the result of culpable conduct by Defendant, Defendant has a
meritorious defense, and Plaintiff will not be prejudiced by setting aside the entry of default.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55 governs both the clerk’s entry of default and a court’s
later issuance of a default judgment. Because a default judgment prevents a plaintiffs claims
from being decided on the merits, the Court “does not favor entry of defaults or default
judgments.” United States v. $55,518.05 in US. Currency, 728 F.2d 192, 194—95 (3d Cir. 1984).
Cases should be “disposed of on the merits whenever practicable.” Hritz v. Woma Corp., 732
F.2d 1178, 1181 (3d Cir. 1984) (citations omitted).
Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(c), a district court “may set aside an entry of default for good
cause.” In exercising this discretion, a court must consider (1) “whether the plaintiff will be
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prejudiced,” (2) “whether the defendant has a meritorious defense,” and (3) “whether the default
was the result of the defendant’s culpable conduct.” Budget Blinds, Inc. v. White, 536 F.3d 244,
256—57 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting $55,518.05 in US. Currency, 728 F.2d at 195).
These are the same three factors that the Third Circuit considers in determining whether
to grant default judgment against a defendant. Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 164 (3d
Cir. 2000). A party seeking default judgment must also first obtain an entry of default.
Limehouse v. Delaware, 144 F. App’x 921, 923 (3d Cir. 2005).
When a party moves to set aside a default, any doubts as to whether the default should be
vacated “should be resolved in favor of setting aside the default and reaching a decision on the
merits.” Gross v. Stereo Component Sys. Inc., 700 F.2d 120, 122 (3d Cir. 1983). “Less
substantial grounds may be adequate for setting aside a default than would be required for
opening a judgment.” Feliciano v. Reliant Tooling Co., 691 F.2d 653, 656 (3d Cir. 1982).
Each of the three factors listed in $55,518.05 in US. Currency weighs in favor of
granting Defendant’s motion to set aside the Clerk’s entry of default. Because the Court
exercises its discretion to set aside the default, it denies Plaintiffs motion for default judgment.
Defendant can raise a meritorious defense.
When considering a motion to set aside an entry of default, the Court must first consider
whether the “allegations of defendant’s answer, if established at trial, would constitute a
complete defense to the action.” $55,518 in US. Currency, 728 F.2d at 195. The defaulting party
need not prove that it will prevail at trial, but it must establish that it has a defense which, on its
face, is meritorious. Pooler v. Mrs. Kurbitis Realty, LLC, 2015 WL 5897455, at *2 (D.N.J. Oct.
7, 2015) (citing $55,518 in US. Currency, 728 F.2d at 195). If the defaulting party cannot
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establish a litigable defense, the other factors need not be considered. Wingate Inns Intern., Inc.
v. P.G.$., LLC, 2011 WL 256327 (D.N.J. Jan. 26, 2011) (citing $55,518 in US. Currency, 728
F.2d at 195).
Defendant claims that he has a meritorious defense to this action because “all Plaintiff
has proven is that Defendant’s Internet connection happens to operate under the IP address in
issue,” not that “Defendant actually caused or is responsible for the alleged infringement of
Plaintiffs copyrightable materials.” ECF No. 16 at 5. Essentially, Defendant argues that
someone else may have been using his IP address to commit the alleged copyright infringement.
Courts in nearly identical cases have recognized this as a valid defense. In another Malibu
copyright infringement case, for example, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania initially denied
defendant’s motion to dismiss on the same IP address ground because the defense “raised factual
issues about [defendant’s] identity more properly dealt with during discovery.” Malibu Media,
LLC v. Doe, 82 F. Supp. 3d 650, 656 (E.D. Pa. 2015). Afler the parties conducted discovery, the
court denied plaintiff Malibu’s motion for summary judgment, holding that a genuine issue of
material fact existed as to whether defendant had infringed on the copyrights even though Malibu
had demonstrated that defendant was the only resident of his apartment during the relevant
period, defendant’s wife and son could not access the Internet or use BitTorrent, defendant’s
computer was password-protected, and images of several of defendant’s computer devices
contained evidence of BitTorrent use and a single fragment of a copyrighted work. Id; see also
Malibu Media, LLC v. John Does 1-18, 2014 WL 229295, at *5 (D.N.J. Jan. 21, 2014) (“[C]ourts
have held that.
many owners of the IP addresses did not download the Works and thus are not
the alleged infringers”) (citing cases); Patrick Collins, Inc. v. John Does 1-13, 2013 WL
3466833, at *4 (D.N.J. July 10, 2013) (acknowledging defendants’ argument that “it is possible
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the internet subscriber did not download the infringing material”); ciMalibu Media, LLC v.
flanagan, 2014 WL 2957701, at *1 (E.D. Pa. July 1, 2014) (granting default judgment against
defendant even though defendant’s wife, and not defendant, was the owner of the IP address
associated with infringing activity because Malibu asserted that “a majority of its’ subscribers
are males, and the Defendant’s online activities, hobbies, and interest implicate that he was the
infringer, and not his wife.”).
Plaintiff may or may not be able to demonstrate that Defendant, and not some other
person, used IP address 188.8.131.52 to infringe its copyrights, but it has not yet done so. Because
Defendant has asserted more than a “simple denial or conclusionaiy statement,” $55,518.05 in
US. Currency, 72$ F.2d at 195, the defense is meritorious, and the first factor weighs in favor of
setting aside the entry of default.
Plaintiff will not be prejudiced by setting aside the entry of default.
Prejudice in the Fed. R. Civ. P. 55 context “is established when a plaintiff’s ability to
pursue the claim has been hindered by, for example, loss of available evidence, increased
potential for fraud or collusion, or substantial reliance upon the judgment.” Nationwide Mut. Ins.
Co. v. Starlight Ballroom Dance Club, Inc., 175 F. App’x 519, 523-24 (3d Cir. 2006) (citations
omitted). Prejudice is generally not established simply by a plaintiffs “[d]elay in realizing
satisfaction on a claim.” S. G. Enterprise, LLC v. Seaboard Paper and Twine, 2015 WL 3630965,
at *2 (D.N.J. June 10, 2015) (quoting feliciano v. Reliant Tooling Co., 691 F.2d 653, 656-57 (3d
Plaintiff will not be prejudiced by setting aside the Clerk’s entry of default. To the extent
that Defendant is a “habitual and persistent BitTorrent user and copyright infringer,” as alleged
in the amended complaint, ECF No. 8 at 26, and continues to use BitTorrent to infringe
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Plaintiffs copyrights, the amount Plaintiff claims it is owed will increase if default is vacated
and the Court does not grant default judgment in favor of Plaintiff. But this increased amount
will be recoverable if Plaintiff successfully litigates its claim, so Plaintiff is not prejudiced by the
allegedly mounting harm. See Wingate Inns Intern., 2011 WL 256327, at *3• Because there is no
indication that any evidence will be lost, that any fraud or collusion will occur, or that Plaintiffs
ability to litigate the matter will be affected if the default is set aside, the Court finds that
Plaintiff will not be prejudiced. See id. (finding no prejudice to plaintiff, granting defendant’s
motion to set aside default, and denying plaintiffs motion for default judgment).
The default was not the result of Defendant’s culpable conduct.
The final $55,518.05 in U S. Currency factor is “whether the default was the result of the
defendant’s culpable conduct.” $55,518.05 in US. Currency, 728 F.2d at 195. “Culpable
conduct’ surpasses mere negligence and consists of willful, intentional, reckless or bad faith
behavior.” S.G. Enterprise, 2015 WL 3630965, at *3 (citing Hritz, 732 F.2d at 1182). Although
“[r]eckless disregard for repeated communications from plaintiffs and the court.. can satisfy
the culpable conduct standard,” Hritz, 732 F.2d at 1183, a mere failure to respond to a claim
despite having notice is generally not culpable conduct. Wingate Inns Intern., 2011 WL 256327,
at *4 (finding no culpable conduct where failure to respond “was the result of miscommunication
and ignorance, not bad faith or strategy”).
Here, Defendant was served with a copy of the amended complaint, the first to name him
as a defendant, on September 25, 2015. ECF No. 12. Defendant claims that he failed to timely
respond to the complaint and the motion for entry of default filed on October 20, 2015, ECF No.
13, because he had not yet retained counsel and was “overwhelmed and confused by the
litigation process.” ECF No. 16 at 7. Defendant also argues that the speed with which he
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eventually filed his motion to set aside the default
less than one week after he retained counsel
weighs against a finding that he acted culpably. Id.
The Court finds that Defendant’s failure to respond to Plaintiff’s filings was the result of
ignorance and negligence, not “deliberate or willful trial strategy.” Zawadski de Bueno v. Bueno
Castro, 822 F.2d 416, 421 (3d Cir. 1987); see also Dizzley v. friends Rehabilitation Program,
Inc., 202 F.R.D. 146, 146-48 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (default not due to culpable conduct where legally
inexperienced defendant neglected to obtain legal counsel for nearly three months but retained
counsel and filed motion to set aside default after being informed that plaintiff was seeking entry
of default judgment). The default was not the result of culpable conduct by Defendant, and the
final factor weighs in favor of setting aside the entry of default.
The Court finds that all three $55,518.05 in US. Currency factors weigh in favor of
setting aside the entry of default: Defendant presents a meritorious defense, setting aside the
default will not prejudice Plaintiff, and the default was not the result of Defendant’s culpable
conduct. Because the Court grants Defendant’s motion to set aside the default, it denies
Plaintiff’s motion for default judgment. An appropriate order follows.
William H. Walls
Senior United States District Court Judge
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