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Hendrickson v. Amazon.com, Inc., 298 F.Supp.2d 914, 69 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1471 (C.D. Cal. 2003) (full-text).
Factual Background Edit
Robert Hendrickson is the producer of the movie “Manson.” He has licensed his documentary for sale as videocassettes, but not as DVDs. As a result, whenever Hendrickson sees a DVD version of “Manson” offered for sale online, he knows it’s a pirated copy. Apparently, there’s a fairly active market in DVD versions of Hendrickson’s movie, because DVDs of it have been offered for sale on eBay and Amazon, at least.
Hendrickson notified eBay and Amazon.com that DVD versions of “Manson” are pirated, and filed contributory copyright infringement suits against both online services, because they allowed DVD sales to continue, despite his notifications. Unfortunately for him, his notifications were not adequate.
The DMCA imposes copyright liability on Internet service providers that permit their facilities to be used by infringers, despite knowledge of that use. But the DMCA also provides Internet service providers immunity from liability, unless they have actual or constructive knowledge of the infringement or receive a written notice containing specific elements required by the DMCA itself. These immunity provisions are commonly referred to as the “safe harbor” provisions of the DMCA.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
The district court dismissed Hendrickson’s suit against Amazon.com, because the judge found that Hendrickson’s notification to Amazon was not adequate to satisfy the specific elements required by the DMCA. The flaw in Hendrickson’s notice was not so much with its content as in its timing.
Hendrickson’s letter notified Amazon that “all” DVD copies of “Manson” infringe his copyright. That notice would have been sufficient, Judge Hatter thought, with respect to any “Manson” DVDs being offered for sale on Amazon, at the time Amazon received the notice. However, the infringing DVDs that triggered Hendrickson’s lawsuit were not offered for sale on Amazon until nine months after Hendrickson sent his letter. And for that reason, Judge Hatter concluded the notification was not sufficient.
Judge Hatter reasoned that the language of the DMCA refers to infringing activity taking place at the time notification is provided — not later. And he observed that Congress intended to split responsibility for policing infringing activity between copyright owners and online service providers; it did not intend to impose that burden entirely on service providers.
Since the notification Hendrickson sent Amazon “was no longer viable” when infringing DVDs of “Manson” were offered for sale, Amazon was protected from liability by the DMCA’s “safe harbor” provisions, the judge concluded. And for that reason, Judge Hatter granted Amazon’s motion for summary judgment.
Hendrickson also lost his earlier case against eBay, because even though his notifications were timely, they didn’t provide all of the information required by the DMCA.