Warner Bros. Sues A Ton Of Amazon Resellers For Selling 'Counterfeit' DVDs

from the counterfeit?-resale? dept

The Hollywood Reporter has a story on Warner Bros. filing a lawsuit against a bunch of individuals who use Amazon’s marketplace offering to sell DVDs that Warner Bros. claims are counterfeit. The lawsuit is pretty weak on details so far. The THR report speculates on whether or not this is about packaging up downloaded or camcorded movies and pretending they’re official.

However, if you look at the Amazon profile of the named defendant, Todd Beckham, you see that he has very good reviews. Currently, he has a 4.9 star rating with over 2,000 reviews. If he were selling inferior counterfeit products, you’d think people would complain, because his listings certainly suggest they’re new official copies. So buyers seem to feel they’re getting what they thought they bought. It’s possible that he’s just a really good counterfeiter, but THR wonders why WB doesn’t just use Amazon’s existing internal controls to terminate service for users who sell infringing works.

WB apparently told THR that this isn’t a case of going after used product sales (where it would have a tough case, given the first sale doctrine — and, again, would likely lead to negative reviews, since the offerings don’t seem to indicate “used” conditions), but it’s unclear how or why the company thinks these DVDs are counterfeit. Again, given the sparseness of detail, it’s entirely possible the targets are creating (apparently high quality) counterfeit flicks and selling them. But it would be nice to see a bit more evidence that that’s the case, and this isn’t just a case of being worried about being undercut by the secondary market. What’s a little worrying is that, according to THR, WB is claiming that the sellers are violating its “distribution rights” to the films, not reproduction rights. That raises at least some questions over whether or not the concern is just competition, or actual unauthorized copies. At the very least, this will be a case worth following…

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Companies: warner bros.

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Comments on “Warner Bros. Sues A Ton Of Amazon Resellers For Selling 'Counterfeit' DVDs”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Guessing they setup a sting

Likely, they purchased discs from the seller and determined they were counterfeit.

I once bought some Baby Einstein discs off Ebay, and unless you were technical enough, you could barely tell they were counterfeit… the ebay seller had excellent feedback – because people were getting what appeared to be great quality DVDs for super-low prices.

I only knew they were counterfeits because:

1) they came in a 30-something disc set that Disney didn’t actually offer retail
2) they were not encrypted with CSS
3) they were only single-layer discs

I happened to have some of the legitimate discs already, so I compared them and saw that the official discs were dual-layer, and encrypted.

Now, what did I do? I contacted Disney and asked them what I should do… and they said: “Send us the discs and we’ll do the rest”… they didn’t offer any sort of compensation, discount, or substitution – and they didn’t offer to send them back after they had done what they wanted with them…

So… I decided not to send the discs in the end. I could have ripped them all to my NAS and then sent them, but frankly, it was more trouble than it was worth. I felt like I had gotten what I paid for, and I was satisfied.

Ultimately, the discs were used/abused and I threw most of them away when my kids outgrew them.

So… this seller very likely *could* be selling counterfeits and nobody has noticed until now. Most people can’t tell the difference, and frankly, the content owners aren’t likely very cooperative with people who discover that they are counterfeits, so… who knows.

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re: Guessing they setup a sting

So… this seller very likely *could* be selling counterfeits and nobody has noticed until now.

But… but…! Counterfeits are always appalling quality with, like wavy lines and bad sound and .. um.. people wandering in front of the camera and stuff. It MUST be true – I’ve seen the adverts! What you’re describing is clearly impossible.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Guessing they setup a sting

its possible they were sets from other countries. i’ve seen box sets of series that are sold elsewhere for relatively cheap, yet they aren’t sold in the same packaging in the US. Sometimes things are just cheaper outside the US (probably ’cause they don’t worry about encryption and what not)

Also Anonymous says:

Re: Guessing they setup a sting

With all the DVD stores going under, including entire retail chains (Blockbuster for example), one has to wonder what kind of effect it’s having on the market. You’d think there would be a flood of used DVD’s being sold right now as the rental stores try to recoup some of their losses.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Guessing they setup a sting

It’s entirely possible that the sellers themselves don’t know they’re counterfeits.

I, too, had purchased DVDs many years ago that were excellent counterfeits. I didn’t realize they were counterfeits for a long time. In fact, they were so good that I still feel like I got what I paid for. As a consumer, I wasn’t ripped off.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Do you really not use PACER or archive.org to find these things, Mike?

I do use both, though when I wrote this article up (a few days ago, but only got around to posting it today), the filing was not available on archive yet. I did link to the RFCExpress version above, which was available, so not sure what you’re complaining about.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It may have been on archive, but it was on PACER. Did you not read the complaint before writing an entire article about it? That what appears to have happened (and I know for a fact that you’ve done that several times before). Due diligence is all I’m suggesting. Basic stuff.

No, you’re the same guy who tells me to “fuck off and die,” so that’s not “all you’re suggesting.” You’re just acting like a childish jackass.

As I said: yes, I read the complaint, and no it’s not at all as clear as you pretend it is.

Out of curiousity, have you attacked Eriq Gardner from THR with the same asinine claims that he must not have read the complaint? He raised similar questions in his writeup.

Basic stuff.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Gardner made it clear that he had read the complaint; you did not. Not a big deal either way. Fact is, you often rush to publish your articles without even having done basic research. If in this particular instance you did in fact read the complaint first–which I don’t believe to be the case–then good for you.

Why is it that you’ll engage me over stupid stuff like this, but when I want to talk about actual substantive issues you run away? Weird.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Best guess

I agree.

” That raises at least some questions over whether or not the concern is just competition, or actual unauthorized copies. At the very least, this will be a case worth following…”

Mike, one moment of reading of the actually complaint will see that they are specific about illegal duplication and conterfeit copies, not trying to shut down a reseller of used product.

Once again, you prove why you aren’t a journalist – you rushed to a point of view without collecting any information.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Best guess

Mike, one moment of reading of the actually complaint will see that they are specific about illegal duplication and conterfeit copies, not trying to shut down a reseller of used product.

Actually, they’re not at all specific, which is why I was asking questions. The complaint talks very generally about counterfeit works, but there’s little explanation to support that these works are counterfeit and (again, as stated in the article), no evidence that WB used the tools provided by Amazon to shut down such sites and sales. Hence my questions.

Once again, you prove why you aren’t a journalist – you rushed to a point of view without collecting any information.

Well, I’ve always said I’m not a journalist, and I post my opinion based on the information available. So, er, not sure why you’re up in arms about that.

In this case, however, I DID collect as much info as I could, including the complaint, which I found to be vague (as stated in the post). We can argue over how vague it was, but I was surprised at the sort of boilerplate text and the lack of any attempt to mitigate the situation via Amazon’s tools.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Best guess

Mike, you need to re-read the complaint. They specifically ask for all duplicates and duplicating equipment.

But they give no indication that they’re sure that’s there. It seems like an assumption they’re making. Normally, for such a situation, I would expect the filing to show a bit more “proof” of infringement rather than speculation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Best guess

I think the other part too is that if there was just a reseller of “expired” stuff from other retailers, they wouldn’t go for copyright violation as much as perhaps trademark violations. Going for copyright pretty much points the finger at illegal duplications,either done locally or mass produced somewhere else.

I cannot imagine then going after some guy selling a few of his own used DVDs, can you?

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Best guess

I cannot imagine then going after some guy selling a few of his own used DVDs, can you?

Oh, really? You can’t imagine that?

Warner has never threatened anyone that wishes to do something legal with DVDs that were legally purchased?


And no one else has, either?


That was one 2 minute search only from stories in the last year. I think you suffer from an astonishing lack of imagination.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Best guess

He’s one of the idiots that think the definition of copyright hasn’t changed, and that fair use has somehow expanded to monstrous capacities that have rendered copyright useless. Of course, this means he completely ignores every instance where someone screams “COPYRIGHT!” where it really isn’t. Like the CEO that demanded SOPA to shut down parody sites.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Best guess

But they give no indication that they’re sure that’s there. It seems like an assumption they’re making. Normally, for such a situation, I would expect the filing to show a bit more “proof” of infringement rather than speculation.

If only there were some mechanism in place where, after filing a complaint, the plaintiff could “discover” things from the defendant. Sigh.

Dreddsnik says:

Re: Re: Re: Best guess

Yup. Just finished reading the filing and it IS pretty light on details. The complaint lumps all of the possible copyright infringement terms in one sentence without specifying which problem they are bitching about. That’s certainly deliberate. It does seem that they want to shut down a reseller of legitimate copies. If this were a case of someone creating and reselling counterfeits I would think that they would be more than happy to specify this, to make it easier to crucify the defendant. The deliberate paucity of info is pretty telling IMO.


Re: Re: Do you believe fictional characters too?

A good way to approach a legal filing is as a work of fiction. You can’t necessarily trust the dialog of a fictional character. You can’t trust that the character is competent or honest. They’re like real people that way.

Just because WB says it, it doesn’t make it so.

The accusation may only be a bullying tactic. It may be no more real than Gus Fring.

JMT says:

Re: Re: Best guess

“Mike, one moment of reading of the actually complaint will see that they are specific about illegal duplication and conterfeit copies, not trying to shut down a reseller of used product.”

And if you were genuinely interesting in having a discussion about this topic that further educates all readers in a helpful manner, you’d have quoted text from the complaint to actually back up your claim, especially since you’re implying it’s so easy to find. But you’re not interested in that, you’re just looking for another weak excuse to have a whine at Mike. Pathetic really.

saulgoode (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I would tend to agree.

A few years back I had an Ebay auction for a set of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” DVDs cancelled. The set was produced by the BBC (not Warner Brothers) and I suspected that had something to do with it (there were identical sets on auction that did not mention their BBC origins in their description). I am quite skeptical that the Beeb was engaged in selling counterfeit DVDs.

I never pursued the issue further; though I briefly considered re-listing the set with a less descriptive description, I ended up just giving the set to a niece for her birthday.

Lennart Regebro says:

Distribution rights

Violating distribution rights sounds like they are buying real copies from one (cheap) country and selling it in another (expensive) country. This is a common problem in distribution.

However, since only US and Canada has Region 1, that does sound slightly unlikely. Not only are they both rich countries, I would expect US and Canada to have the same distributor, and hence you can’t buy it in one country and sell it in the other.

Another possibility is that they have a contract where they only are allowed to sell to stores, but via Amazon sell directly, thus cutting out one middle hand. But that would be a violation of contract, not selling counterfeit copies.

It is possible that it’s not the sellers here that are violating that contract, though, but someone higher up in the distribution chain, the problem being that WB hasn’t got a clue who, so they go after the sellers instead.

Anonymous Coward says:

This ties together MPAA, RIAA, CNN, and Time Warner.

This ties together MPAA, RIAA, CNN, and Time Warner. It also explains why the attack on Murdock’s News of the World by the opposition as they were doing exactly the same thing.

The Gardian

Series: Michael Wolff on media and modern life
So, what’s next for CNN?

AW says:

I just read the PACER document. They don’t even know who they are going after, because they think there MIGHT be 1 to 10 more Does in the case, of whom they suspect helped. There was no reference to why they suspected counterfeit, just that they are accusing him in California and unless they can have each act of infringement enjoined, they have no way of knowing how they were harmed. So, they don’t know who caused they harm, how much harm was caused, and can’t say why the discs were counterfeit. Seems airtight to me. Hopefully they will release some more stunning admissions at trial.

They make no reference whatsoever to anything other than the site Amazon as where the infringement takes place. Which leads me to believe that WB doesn’t know who’s doing the infringement.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: It's easy to have good customer service when you don't pay the artist

Hello– Of course pirates like this can have good customer service. They don’t have any of the development costs so they can sell for less and still make a mint.

“Customer service” means things like shipping out items promptly, communicating with the customer, etc. This isn’t any cheaper or easier for pirates to do than for any other retailer.

Also, one of the ways people rate Amazon sellers is whether they get the item that they actually ordered. Unless these were very good counterfeits (with full-color folding inserts and all the packaging), at least some people would complain. It would certainly be enough to net the seller less than 4.9 stars (out of five) with over two thousand buyers.

Of course, that’s not proof that he’s not selling counterfeits. The whole thing does smell rather fishy, though.


Re: Re: Customer service is a different cost center.

It’s not that simple. Not all DVDs are created equal. Some are pretty crappy. Some are even pressed on demand by Amazon itself. So you can’t really just a DVD by it’s cover.

I’ve complained about missing materials myself when it turned to be just crappy packaging. Anchor Bay and Mill Creek are especially bad about this. Cookie Jar is pretty cut-rate too.

They industry doesn’t make it so easy to distinguish the fake stuff from the real stuff sometimes.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: It's easy to have good customer service when you don't pay the artist

Well, yes of course pirates typically have better customer service. They offer the product before the competition, without DRM or any restrictions as to use.
Whereas, if I go the legit route, I’m actually more likely to be harmed (Ubisoft did this recently, I’m actually surprised no-one submitted this as a story to Techdirt. Their DRM, Uplay, for games like Assassin’s Creed, was found to contain a rootkit plugin for web browsers that could have allowed any website to run any program they wished with administrator credentials). See? Any games from Ubisoft whose copyright I had infringed on had never harmed me, but the ones I did pay for? They’re the ones that would leave my computer vulnerable to hacking attempts.

chris janota (user link) says:

Red flag: multiple copies

I own a dvd buy back website and we ocassionally receive what we beleive to be counterfeit dvds. The red flag is when sellers are trying to sell us multiple copies of the same dvd.
My guess is that WB was targeting sellers with loads of the same title.

We find that the Disney classics are frequent targets of the counterfeiters and they are released as Canadian versions (region 14). It is very hard to detect these, even for us.

AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Red flag: multiple copies

I once had a disney rep tell me a copy of a disney movie I had was counterfeit…..despite the fact it was bought as Disney world…his proof was that the lable was poorly printed on one side….(like the disk had somethink on it, finger oil for example) yet it was encrypted, and had the disney DRM that kept it from working in older dvd players….(why i complained to the asshole in the first place) i ended up after that just copying all the movies for a neibor lady of mine charged her 5bucks a disk so her kids could watch themovies they got them for christmas….(they had old tv’s with first gen dvd players in them that would lock up 1/2 way into the movie)….the copies worked fine….orignals she ended up selling to somebody who ran a daycare…..lol

disney lost a customer due to their shoddy DRM that stopped legit use…..stupid fuckers….

JDinHuntsvilleAL says:

I have some of these "illegal" DVDs

I apparently have some of these. I just bought the first six seasons of “Night Court” from Amazon. They arrived from different sellers. Seasons 1-3 are legit: The discs are silver and over 6GBs. Seasons 4-6 are copies: The discs are PURPLE, only 4GBs and have “DVD FOR DOWNLOADS” etched in the rims. The quality of the pictures IS perceptible, though slight, but I PAID for legit copies to avoid the lower picture quality. Guess I’ll have to contact AMAZON or WB about these and see what happens.

Brittany (profile) says:

amazon deletes feedback complaining of counterfeits

The reason why this Amazon seller has such a good feedback rating is that Amazon will not allow a buyer to leave negative feedback if the feedback states they received a counterfeit item. I recently received two obviously counterfeit textbooks from two different sellers on Amazon. I left them both negative feedback complaining their item was counterfeit. Amazon then immediately deleted my feedback, with no reflection on the seller’s rating. There was one other negative feedback from another buyer that had been recently left complaining they received a counterfeit book, and that feedback was also deleted by Amazon. Amazon is trying to cover up the fact that some of their sellers sell counterfeit items, and they are leaving their customers open to fraud, as they do not allow negative feedback complaining of counterfeit items to be posted.

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