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Atlantic Recording Corp., et al. v. Serrano, USDC S.D. California

In a copyright infringement suit alleging illegal downloading of songs via a peer-to-peer network, the district court granted plaintiff record companies’ motion to dismiss counterclaims alleging Media Sentry caused trespass to chattels, violated computer fraud and abuse statute and invasion of privacy statute, and caused intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Specifically, the defendant alleged that Media Sentry (acting as the plaintiffs’ agent) committed trespass by searching the defendant's computer without permission. The plaintiffs argued that the defendant failed to allege any computer damage or interference, and thus failed to state a necessary element of trespass to chattels. The court agreed with the plaintiffs, finding that under California law, trespass to chattels does not encompass an electronic communication that neither damages the recipient computer system nor impairs its functioning (citing Intel Corp. v. Hamidi, 30 Cal. 4th 1342 (Cal. 2003)).

The defendant also claimed that Media Sentry violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by unlawfully gaining access to his computer to secretly spy and steal private information. The plaintiffs argued that the defendant implicitly authorized the public to access his computer by placing files in a "shared" folder. The court did not rule on the plaintiffs’ theory about placing files in a shared folder, but nevertheless dismissed this counterclaim because the defendant failed to allege specific facts such as when or how the plaintiffs allegedly broke into his computer and spied on his information; what private information was spied on and removed; or how the plaintiffs appropriated or profited from the defendant's personal property.

The defendant also claimed that the plaintiffs violated his right of privacy by obtaining his IP address through unlawful ex parte communications with the court. The court dismissed this claim because the plaintiffs obtained the IP address pursuant to a subpoena served on defendant's ISP and, therefore, “the information produced is absolutely privileged.”

The defendant also claimed that the plaintiffs’ actions constituted intentional infliction of emotional distress. To state an IIED claim, a plaintiff must allege: (1) extreme and outrageous conduct with the intention of causing, or reckless disregard of the probability of causing, emotional distress; (2) plaintiff's suffering severe or extreme emotional distress; and (3) actual and proximate causation of the emotional distress by the defendant's outrageous conduct. The court held that viewing defendant's IP address on a public peer-to-peer network and moving for a subpoena based on that information did not constitute outrageous conduct and dismissed this claim. The court also dismissed the defendant’s counterclaim seeking a declaration of non-infringement and denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss or for a more definite statement, finding that plaintiffs had provided sufficient information about their valid copyrights and the defendant’s copying and distributing specific copyrighted works without permission.