Fourth Circuit affirms dismissal of frivolous $4 Billion copyright claim

Chambers v. Amazon. Unpublished.

So, this case isn’t setting any precedent. It’s not going to make a casebook any time soon. But it is fun interesting.

Roland Chambers, Jr., appealed the district court’s order dismissing his copyright infringement lawsuit. Chambers sued Amazon, Apple, CD Baby and others. He claimed (sort of) that each was liable for copyright infringement and violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. He sought over $4 BILLION in damages. You can read the gem of a complaint here.

In his complaint, he alleged that in 2001, he gave five CDs to CD Baby to distribute online through his business entity. He claimed that he later found that they were selling more than the five copies he provided. In 2014, Chambers bought a copy of his CD from Amazon.com. He also asserted that various sites offered digital copies for sale, though he’d never authorized digital sales.

The district court dismissed the case, finding that Chambers had only stated facts showing that one CD had been sold, and had provided no support for any argument of unauthorized copying. Though the district court didn’t give a clear basis for it’s dismissal, the Circuit Court reasoned that the district court dismissed the case under Section 1915(e)(2), which allows dismissal if a case is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks damages from a defendant who is immune from such relief. The court wrote:

“To establish a claim for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act . . . , a plaintiff must prove that [he] possesses a valid copyright and that the defendant copied elements of [the] work that are original and protectable.” Copeland v. Bieber, 789 F.3d 484, 488 (4th Cir. 2015). “Absent direct proof of copying, which is hard to come by, a plaintiff may prove copying indirectly, with evidence showing that the defendant had access to the copyrighted work and that the purported copy is ‘substantially similar’ to the original.” Id.

Chambers did not set forth sufficient facts to state a plausible claim of copyright infringement. Although he appeared to identify a copyright by number, he stated that the copyright was registered to Reliable Brokering — not to himself. Reliable Brokering was simply described as “a business owned and operated by Roland Chambers, Jr.” Chambers did not provide any details about the structure of Reliable Brokering. Chambers asserted in the complaint that numerous copies of his CD — more than the five he originally supplied CD Baby — were available from various Defendants but provided no evidence of this. We find that Chambers did not set forth sufficient facts in his complaint to establish either that he possessed a valid copyright or that any of the Defendants reproduced copyrighted work.

Through the DMCA, “Congress sought to mitigate the problems presented by copyright enforcement in the digital age.” MDY Indus., LLC v. Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., 629 F.3d 928, 942 (9th Cir. 2010). “The DMCA contains three provisions directed at the circumvention of copyright owners’ technological measures” that are either designed to control access to copyrighted works or to protect a copyright owner’s rights. Id. “A copyright owner alleging a violation of [the DMCA] must prove that the circumvention of the technological measure either infringes or facilitates infringing a right protected by the Copyright Act.” Storage Tech. Corp. v. Custom Hardware Engineering & Consulting, Inc., 421 F.3d 1307, 1318 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Chambers did not state any facts from which it might reasonably be inferred that there was a violation of the DMCA. Specifically, he did not claim to have put into place a technological measure that would have protected a copyright or that any Defendant circumvented such a measure. Thus, dismissal of the complaint insofar as it claimed a DMCA violation was proper.