Two years ago, shortly before The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn was released, Summit Entertainment made a fuss over an Argentinian hacking group that allegedly broke into its computer servers and obtained copyrighted material. The studio, now a subsidiary of Lionsgate, identified Daiana Santia as the perpetrator of efforts to circulate photos, unfinished images and video of Breaking Dawn.
But appealing to Twilight's fan community not to view or pass along images is one thing. Could Summit actually hold the accused Argentinian hackers legally responsible and make them pay for their alleged acts?
On Monday, Summit filed an appeal over a federal judge's decision last month to deny a default judgment. Defendants Daiana Santia and Hector Santia never responded to a lawsuit; yet despite that fact, the judge said the studio hadn't made its case.
Summit demanded $2.1 million in statutory damages for the theft and infringement of 13 registered copyrights, $47,600 in attorney's fees and post-judgment interest. The studio said that it would suffer prejudice if its default motion wasn't granted because it "would be denied the right to judicial resolution of the claims presented, and would be without other recourse for recovery."
Unfortunately for Summit, barring some other conclusion by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, it looks out of luck.
"The Court finds the bald allegations in Summit’s Complaint insufficient to establish the merits of its claims," writes U.S. District Judge Otis Wright in a August 9 ruling, "While pleadings are admitted as true on default, Summit's pleadings do not allude at all... to exactly how Defendants improperly accessed Summit's servers or how Defendants infringed Summit's copyrights. Notably, Summit does not indicate exactly what was downloaded from Summit's servers -- Summit provides no filenames or descriptions of the data files that were taken. What Summit provides is a list of 13 copyrights."
The judge adds that there is "no evidence" that the Santias are the real perpetrators or why the studio believes they are the ones who committed the acts alleged. "And given that the Complaint alleges illegal activity solely perpetrated via the Internet, there is a good possibility that there is a material dispute about the facts laid out in the Complaint," adds the judge.
Summit had demanded maximum statutory damages, but the judge says that there was no effort to prove "actual damages," merely an assertion that the $2.1 million correlated with "Defendants' egregious conduct as well as the revenue Summit obtained at the box office -- $1.8 billion."
The 13 copyrights were really only nine "upon closer inspection," continues detail-oriented Judge Wright, also observing the timing of allegations and registrations. The Santias were accused of beginning to access the Summit servers in October 2010, but the earliest registration date of the nine copyrights was July 8, 2011. That would make sense because Breaking Dawn hadn't yet been released. But copyright law only entitles a plaintiff to collect maximum statutory damages for willful infringement of works registered with the Copyright Office, and here the judge says he "finds it unlikely that the infringing acts occurred after the July 8, 2011 registration date."
And what about the Santias failure to respond?
"The Court notes that it took Summit almost two years to serve the Defendants, that the Defendants are alleged to reside in Argentina, and that they were served via the Hauge Convention," writes the judge. "This gives rise to the possibility that Defendants' default was due to excusable neglect."
As stated above, Summit is now appealing its loss. We've reached out to the studio and will provide any comment given.
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