The Perils of Failing to Answer

Last week I summarized a recent case that looked at when maximum statutory damages are appropriate in a copyright infringement matter.  I noted that during its analysis, the Getty Court made reference to IO Group, Inc. v. Antelope Media – another case that evaluated an award of maximum statutory damages, and with particular relevance to the defendant’s behavior in that case.1

But was the Court’s reliance on that case somewhat short sighted?

Upon review of IO Group, Inc. it is readily apparent the ‘facts’ of that case were deemed admitted to by the defendants, instead of proven on the merits by the plaintiffs.  In its complaint, the plaintiffs asserted, among other things: that nine copyrighted works were infringed; defendants gained commercial advantage by use of the works; infringement continued after notice of suit; and defendants engaged in acts to prohibit the plaintiff from learning the full extent of the infringing conduct.

Unfortunately, instead of contesting the assertions, the defendants were non-responsive and failed to answer the complaint.  In doing so, the plaintiff was able to file and have entered a default judgment that resulted in a defacto admission by the defendants as to all of the assertions thereagainst, including willfulness related to the infringement.

Since all of the assertions were deemed admitted (regardless of how true they actually were), the Judge had little issue finding a justification for maximum statutory damages (9 x $150,000) and all but hand waved the plaintiffs request for full costs and reasonable attorney fees.

While IO Group, Inc. is not a great example of a case on the merits, it is a cautionary example for anyone that is ever faced with defending a copyright infringement suit to take it seriously.   More to the point it is imperative to provide an answer to the complaint so that a crushing, and perhaps unwarranted, judgment cannot be entered against you.