Warner Bros. Files More Mass Litigation Targeting 'Counterfeit Products' on Amazon

2012-07 REP Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 H
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

"Harry Potter" led the charge for Time Warner's industry-leading studio unit.

Warner Bros. is very serious about cracking down on counterfeits on Amazon.com.

Following a round of lawsuits in July, the studio's home entertainment division filed another 21 lawsuits last week. Again, the company is going after those who sell discounted DVDs in the Amazon Marketplace, a resellers' venue that the studio believes has been hijacked to some degree by those selling "unauthorized" copies of works ranging from Boardwalk Empire DVDs to Harry Potter Blu-rays.

The complaints don't offer much detail about the allegedly copyright infringing works that are up for sale besides claiming that they are violations of the rights, titles and interest of Warner Bros. There's more than one way that a work could potentially run afoul of the studio's rights -- from a seller who might not have proper "license" to resell a work to a seller who creates a camcorded copy and attempts to pass it off as being an authentic store-purchased copy.

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Warner Bros. maintains that the works in question are blatant counterfeits without giving up further information about their investigations.

Not all of the lawsuits are the same, however.

Almost all of the suits target one named individual along with a handful of John Does.

But one of the complaints stuffs several defendants together under their Amazon.com seller aliases. That particular lawsuit (read here) has garnered curiosity from some legal observers who wonder if Warner Bros. is adopting the same controversial "joinder" tactic as certain indie film production companies and many porn studios.

In reaction to those past "joinder" lawsuits, a few judges have expressed wariness at the practice of intimating a co-conspiracy among defendants who have little to do with each other besides allegedly violating the same laws in the same venue. Other judges, though, have allowed such litigation to proceed

The purpose of bringing such a lawsuit, with big claims and a lack of specificity, is typically to get a judge to sign off on subpoenas so that more investigation can ensue.

For example, to quote one of Warners' lawsuits, "The true legal status, identity and residency of RG is currently unknown to Warner Bros., but Warner Bros. is informed and believes that Amazon.com will release the true identity of RG upon service of a subpoena once legal action has been filed concerning RG."

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If a judge agrees, Amazon will then have the choice of either attempting to quash the subpoena or giving up the information. (There's no indication that Amazon is fighting any of the lawsuits that were filed back in July.)

It's also worth noting that Warner Bros. could theoretically bring a lawsuit against Amazon, arguing the e-commerce site holds vicarious liability for inducing or failing to do more to stop counterfeiters.

However, such an endeavor doesn't look to be in the studio's plans at the moment. In fact, the two companies are hardly at odds. In July, just a few days before the initial round of lawsuits, Warner Bros. and Amazon struck a deal for Amazon's Prime service to get exclusive rights to stream shows including West Wing and Fringe.

At the moment, the two companies are delicately handling the situation of unauthorized goods on Amazon's reseller market. According to the lawsuit, more than two million of Amazon's users use the Marketplace to offer up goods.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner