Court Blocks Furniture Seller From Sending More DMCA Takedowns To eBay Over Competitor's Furniture

from the dmca-that-wicker dept

It’s no secret that the DMCA can be used as a form of censorship and anti-competitive practices. Thankfully, at least some judges are catching on. Evan Brown has the story of how Zen Path, a company that sells furniture online, had been sending DMCA takedowns to eBay, after noticing competitor Design Furnishings selling very similar wicker furniture on eBay. It turns out that both sellers had the same Chinese supplier. It did appear that Design Furnishings may have used Zen Path’s photos for its sales, but later removed them. Where things got bizarre is that the company then claimed that Design Furnishings violated Zen Path’s “copyrights or patents” in selling the furniture. When Design Furnishings asked for proof of either such violation, rather than provide such proof, Zen Path first filed for a copyright registration on the design (something it apparently had not done previously) and started sending lots of DMCA takedowns to eBay (63 such notices). eBay, to protect itself from DMCA liability, took down the auctions and lowered the ratings on Design Furnishings’ account, given the high number of infringement notices.

Design Furnishings sued to get a restraining order against Zen Path’s DMCA takedowns, and the court issued a temporary restraining order, noting that even Zen Path, by its own arguments, appeared to realize that it had no copyright interest in its wicker furniture:

Here, defendant’s applications for copyright protection claimed the works were sculptures or 3-D artwork or ornamental designs, indicating that defendant knew the limits of copyright protection. The pictures of the furniture, though, suggest that defendant impermissibly sought protection of the “industrial design” of the furniture. Moreover, the internal contradiction in the applications raises a strong inference that defendant subjectively knew it did not have a copyright infringement claim when it notified eBay. Accordingly, the court finds that plaintiff has a likelihood of success on the merits.

Furniture, as a useful item, is not copyrightable. You might be able to copyright a specific non-useful design element, but the overall furniture is simply not copyrightable. The court here is basically saying the fact that Zen Path clearly wanted to pretend that the chair was a sculpture was an indication that it knew the chairs themselves were not copyrightable, and thus filing the DMCA notices was an abuse of the DMCA.

It’s pretty rare to see a court actually recognize an abuse of the DMCA, and even if this is a slightly odd case, it’s certainly nice to see. You can read the full ruling after the jump.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: design furnishings, zen path

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Comments on “Court Blocks Furniture Seller From Sending More DMCA Takedowns To eBay Over Competitor's Furniture”

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Mojo says:

That’s a great story, but sadly it makes you wonder how many cases of fraudulent takedown notices there are which are NOT caught.

Probably most of them, since i’d guess the majority of scammers sending them out aren’t going to be idiotic enough to send out 63 for the same situation.

Just shows how anybody can shut down anybody else by sending a fraudulent takedown notice; if Ebay won’t bother checking the validity of them just to be on the safe side, you can bet no one is.

There needs to be strict punishments in place for doing this.

CharlesFosterKane (profile) says:

Why Prisons Were Created

IMHO, the defendant appears to be nothing more than a corporate terrorist using claiming protection under the DMCA. I guess they were cynically hoping to drive their competitor out of business before an independent judiciary caught them. For once, the good guys win!

This type of behavior is what is killing small business in this country. It is bad enough that people use the legal system to win in court what they can’t win through fair competition. It is even worse that there are blood-sucking attorneys willing to aid them all for a few dirty bucks. What ever happened to good old American fair competition?

santa (profile) says:

The designs that prompted this paradigm shift were produced in the middle of the twentieth century, most of them well before one nine six zero. And yet they are still regarded internationally as symbols of the modern age, the present and perhaps even the future. Modern Classic Furniture became an icon of elegance and sophistication. Thanks.
Scottsdale real estate

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