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IP/Entertainment Case Law Updates

Mills v. Netflix, Inc.

District court dismisses plaintiff’s DMCA claim of removal and altering of copyright management information, finding that defendants attributed clips from plaintiff’s YouTube video in Netflix Fyre Festival documentary to plaintiff. 

Plaintiff Austin Mills is a YouTuber who, on April 29, 2017, posted a 13-minute vlog (video blog) of his trip to Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas for the now infamous Fyre Festival, a fraudulent luxury music festival organized by Billy McFarland and Ja Rule, titled Fyre Festival COMPLETE Disaster. VLOG of Chaos! Nearly two years later, in January 2019, both Netflix and Hulu released documentaries about the now infamous Fyre Festival fraud (Hulu’s called Fyre Fraud and Netflix’s called FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened). Netflix’s FYRE documentary includes short excerpts from Mills’ YouTube video.  

Mills brought suit against Netflix and the FYRE producers, alleging copyright infringement, vicarious and/or contributory copyright infringement, and violations of the DMCA, based on the inclusion of excerpts of his video in the FYRE documentary. Defendants moved to dismiss Mills’ DMCA cause of action for failure to state a claim.

In support of his DMCA claim, Mills alleged that his YouTube video conveyed CMI, including his name as author, the Fyre Festival COMPLETE Disaster. VLOG of Chaos! title and other metadata, and that defendants intentionally removed or altered CMI and also distributed false CMI by identifying defendants as the owner of his video materials. The district court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss the DMCA claim, finding Mills failed to state the factual basis for any of these allegations, including because the documentary specifically identified him and his YouTube account as the source of the clips, and therefore (1) failed to allege non-conclusory facts supporting his allegations that defendants intended to induce infringement by allegedly removing or altering any CMI, as is required under 17 U.S.C. §1202(a), and (2) failed to include specific allegations as to “how identifiable infringements will be affected by Defendants’ alleged removing or altering of CMI,” as is required under 17 U.S.C. §1202(b). Further, Mills’ allegation that defendants removed “other metadata” was found to be overly vague and insufficient to support his claim.

Mills’ only specific allegation was that defendants removed the title of his YouTube video when they included it in the FYRE documentary. The court found, however, that because the title was merely a part of the website where Mills’ video was posted, but does not appear on the video itself, any failure to include it in the FYRE documentary did not constitute a removal of CMI or a DMCA violation.

In addition, the court dismissed Mills’ DMCA claim because he failed to allege a pattern of conduct demonstrating that defendants knew or had reason to know their actions would cause future infringement. The court found that the inclusion of Mills’ name as the source of the clips demonstrated that Mills’ conclusory allegations—that defendants knew and intended to induce infringement by altering CMI—were not plausible.
 
Defendants also moved to dismiss Mills’ first amended complaint in its entirety on the grounds that the allegations were pleaded against defendants collectively, without properly attributing specific conduct to particular defendants, even though each defendant played a different role in the production or distribution of the documentary. The court denied this motion, finding that nothing in the first amended complaint made it “implausible” that each of the defendants had a role in the alleged appropriating, producing, distributing and streaming potions of Mills’ copyrighted video.

Summary prepared by Linna Chin and Nathalie Russell