Federal Judge: Wi-Fi Network Owner Not Obligated to Secure Network to Stop Illegal File-Sharing

It looks like it might be hard for rights holders in various entertainment industries to sue individuals who have open Wi-Fi networks for copyright infringement done by guests, if the following court case is any indication. A California man whose open network was allegedly used to download a copyrighted video cannot be sued, according to a ruling by a federal judge.

The complaint filed in April of this year alleged that Hatfield was negligent because he didn't secure his network, and therefore liable.

AF Holdings, who admitted in its case that it does not know the identity of the user who downloaded its video using BitTorrent, targeted Josh Hatfield with a lawsuit in federal court because it was downloaded via his unsecured home Internet connection. Hatfield moved for a dismissal on the grounds that the plaintiff failed "to state a claim" and 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. The Electronic Frontier Foundation planned on submitting an amicus brief on behalf of Hatfield if the case had gone forward.

"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.

While AF Holdings may not have liked that Hatfield's alleged actions or inactions related to the illegal download, the court found that there was no obligation for him to act one way or the other. AF Holdings also never proved that Hatfield had a legal duty to prevent infringement because he did not have a "special relationship" with AF Holdings that would obligate him to protect its copyrights.

Judge Hamilton 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 court ruled that the company must serve this mysterious individual by Oct. 5, or those claims will be dismissed without prejudice as well. You can read the ruling here (PDF).

Source: Courthouse News

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