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US copyright litigation report reveals file sharing cases now outnumber all others

A new report from Lex Machina analyses copyright litigation trends since 2009, highlights the top plaintiffs and defendants, and details the rise of file sharing suits


Lex Machina has released a report highlighting trends and insights from copyright cases filed in US district courts from January 1 2009 to June 30 this year (register online to download the whole report here).

The report reveals copyright litigation is a concentrated business. The Central District of California’s 2,496 cases since 2009 give it a 26.2% share, while the Southern District of New York’s 1,061 cases give it an 11.1% share. No other district had more than 1,000 cases filed since 2009.

Top plaintiffs include the music industry, publishing, software and fashion. The top plaintiff is Broadcast Music, which has filed 968 cases since 2009. It is followed by Sony/ATV Song with 528 cases, Warner-Tamerlane Publishing with 401 cases, Songs of Universal with 374 cases, and EMI Blackwood with 327 cases.

Top defendants include retailers, recorded music publishers and book publishers. The top defendant is Ross Stores with 181 cases. It is followed by The TJX Companies with 98 cases, Universal Music with 57 cases, with 55 cases, and Burlington Coat Factory with 54 cases.

The leading law firm for plaintiffs is Doniger/Burroughs. The California fashion, art and entertainment boutique’s 741 cases are more than double the next firm. Its clients include LA Printex Industries, Star Fabrics, United Fabrics International and Unicolors.

In second place is another California firm, The J Andrews Coombs Law Offices, with 305 cases. It represents Disney, Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox and DC Comics.

Call & Jensen represented defendants in the most cases, with 142.

Breaking down the stats

The report underlines that fair use is usually decided on summary judgment. Some 72.9% of those who successfully contest ownership or validity do so at summary judgment.

The median time to a temporary restraining order is eight days, to a preliminary injunction is 1.2 months, and to a permanent injunction is 7.5 months. Median time to trial is 2.1 years.

Of the cases since 2009, 2.8% ended in claim defendant win, 22.3% ended in a claimant win, 64.1% in likely settlement, and 10.8% procedural.

This means, of the 14,669 cases terminated since 2009 only 25% have reached a merits decision. Of those, less than half generated a damages award, representing 11.1% of the cases filed. The $495 million of consent judgments represent 40.8% of damages for copyright cases and the $476 million of default judgments represents 39.2%. Juries have awarded $14 million of damages compared with judges awarding $97 million.

The Northern District of California has the highest median award of compensatory damages among district with a high number of cases, at $200,000

The statistics in this blog post so far do not include file sharing cases, defined as copyright cases involving claims of infringement for Bit Torrent/P2P file sharing brought against John Doe(s), anonymous defendants, their IP addresses or internet service providers. An explosion in file sharing cases has occurred since 2011. Last year, the number of file sharing cases outnumbered other copyright cases.

Erotic website owner Malibu Media is the top plaintiff for file sharing litigation, with 4,332 cases. This is more than 15 times higher than the next most litigious plaintiff.

You can download the report by registering online here.

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