Warner Bros. Files Mass Litigation Against Amazon Resellers

Is Amazon's user marketplace rife with counterfeits?
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. is going after Amazon.com's resellers market. The studio's home entertainment division has filed at least 16 separate lawsuits in California against those who use the e-vendor to sell discounted DVDs ranging from Harry Potter films to many HBO shows such as Game of Thrones, The Wire, The Sopranos and Entourage.

Each of the defendants is alleged to be using the Amazon's e-commerce platform, which enables third parties to sell products on its website. According to the complaint, more than 2 million Amazon users participate in the Amazon Marketplace to offer "new, used and collectible selections at fixed prices to Amazon customers around the world."

The complaints don't offer much detail about what the defendants are selling except to identify the titles of the allegedly infringed works and to say the works being sold are "counterfeit."

A search of the products being offered by defendants on Amazon yields such items as a DVD of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that's priced at $6.99.

In the lawsuit, Warner Bros. asserts exclusive distribution rights to various creative works.

The reselling of copyrighted items has long enjoyed some legal protection under the "first-sale doctrine." But in a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010 in Vernor v. Autodesk, the appellate judges held that the original vendor could limit the application of the first-sale doctrine by crafting the terms of use for media content to define the purchase as a "license" rather than a strict "sale."

However, a source close to the studio says the latest lawsuits are "not a question of used merchandise." (Warners had no comment.)

If Warner Bros. is suggesting that illegally downloaded or camcorded copies of shows and movies are being passed off as new or used items on Amazon, the lawsuits launched Monday suggest a different sort of problem. Namely, the lack of internal controls in the Amazon Marketplace to deal with such "counterfeits." Amazon has been known in the past to suspend the accounts of counterfeiters, so the litigation raises the question of why not this time. An Amazon spokesperson wasn't available for comment.

Amazon is not a named defendant in the suits.

However, a few of the lawsuits target unnamed John Does. Typically, such a move is made in anticipation of subpoenaing a service provider for more information about the identities of infringers.

Warner Bros. is seeking that the defendants be restrained from offering unauthorized copies of their works for sale as well as marketing, advertising and promoting such copies. The studio also is seeking actual damages and attorney costs.

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