Amazon is facing a US copyright infringement lawsuit for distributing movies on its streaming service for which it doesn’t hold the rights. Filed in a New York court and alleging direct and contributory copyright infringement, the suit covers movies including Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. It demands a jury trial and statutory damages that could run to millions of dollars.
In those cases, Amazon is always on the offensive but in a lawsuit filed in a New York court, the company itself is being targeted for distributing copyrighted works for which it doesn’t hold a license.
The complaint was filed by Ralf Hartmann (RH), who previously acted as CEO for German film investor CP Medien. Around ten years ago, when CP Medien was being wound up, it was reported that Hartmann would continue working in the film industry through the CP Medien subsidiary Capella Films.
How that venture panned out isn’t clear but according to the lawsuit, Capella Films “assigned, transferred and sold” all of its interests in several films to Hartmann. The rights acquired by Hartmann included copyrights and exclusive reproduction and distribution rights. It’s alleged that these rights have been breached by Amazon after the company distributed copies of several movies to the public via its streaming service.
Amazon Streamed Unlicensed Movies in the US and Overseas
“Beginning in July 2017, Defendants, without obtaining either license or authorization from RH, made the motion pictures “Commander Hamilton” and “After the Rain” available for digital distribution either via streaming on demand, and/or for rent or sale on its Prime Video service in the United States,” the complaint reads.
It’s alleged that these two titles were rented and/or purchased at least hundreds of times by Prime Video subscribers.
Noting the worldwide reach of Amazon’s streaming service, the lawsuit claims that from July 2017, Amazon made the movies After the Rain, Commander Hamilton, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and Drop Dead Gorgeous available for digital distribution (either via streaming and/or rent from Prime Video) in overseas countries including the UK, Germany and Australia. These are estimated to have been sold or streamed “thousands of times”.
Hartmann says that since these titles were stored on Amazon’s servers in the United States and streamed to both local and overseas customers without a proper license, this constitutes breaches of the US Copyright Act. There appears to be a lack of clarity when it comes to the scale of the alleged infringement so Hartmann hopes to learn the scale of the alleged infringement through discovery.
Direct and Contributory Infringement in the United States
Alleging direct infringement in the United States, the lawsuit claims that “Commander Hamilton” and “After the Rain” were distributed willfully and intentionally in the country and as a result, Hartmann is entitled to statutory damages of $150,000 per infringed work or actual damages and Amazon’s profits from infringement to be determined at trial.
Claiming acts of contributory copyright infringement in the United States, the lawsuit says that by “facilitating, managing or directing unauthorized distributions” of these two unlicensed movies, Amazon materially contributed to copyright infringements carried out by Prime Video subscribers via the Amazon.com website or the company’s streaming app.
“Each unlawful distribution of the Motion Pictures Commander Hamilton and After the Rain — whether by on demand stream, rental and/or sale — constitutes a separate act of contributory infringement for which Plaintiff is entitled to actual damages,” the lawsuit adds, noting that for each work it can claim maximum statutory damages of $150,000.
Infringement in the United States and Overseas
Hartmann’s third claim details alleged contributory copyright infringement in respect of movies streamed to foreign users from Amazon’s servers in the United States, for which $150,000 per work infringed is again claimed.
“Because copies of these four Motion Pictures – Commander Hamilton, After the Rain, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Drop Dead Gorgeous – were without RH’s license or authorization, hosted on Defendants’ servers based in the United States and then distributed from these servers to Prime Video subscribers in Foreign Countries, each such distribution…was a violation of the Copyright Act,” the claims states.
Vicarious Infringement in the US and Infringement Overseas
Claim four asserts that by failing to control the conduct of Amazon Digital, Amazon is vicariously liable for the direct copyright infringement of Amazon Digital by streaming the two movies in the US via the Prime Video service.
Noting that all of the movies listed in the third claim were hosted in the United States and streamed to customers overseas, Hartmann says he is also entitled to damages under the copyright laws of foreign countries.
Request For Judgment Against Amazon.com and Amazon Digital
In conclusion, the lawsuit seeks an order from the court that the defendants infringed the plaintiff’s copyrights and that since that infringement was willful, damages should be “increased and trebled”. Amazon is yet to file its response.
The complaint and can be found here (pdf)
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