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Warner Bros. targets Amazon third-party sellers with lawsuits

A new front in the war against bootlegged content has opened up, and it’s one you might not have seen coming: Warner Bros. has filed 21 lawsuits against third party vendors on Amazon.com, citing violations of copyright in regards to certain Warner Bros. DVD and Blu-ray titles that are being sold through the service.

The Hollywood Reporter has the news that the studio’s home entertainment division has filed the lawsuits, which are actually a second round of suits following 16 actions started in July of this year. In both cases, the targets of the legal action are third party vendors using Amazon’s Marketplace e-commerce platform to sell significantly discounted DVDs and Blu-rays, a practice that anonymous sources claim Warners “believes has been hijacked to some degree by those selling ‘unauthorized’ copies of works ranging from Boardwalk Empire DVDs to Harry Potter Blu-rays.” The meaning of “unauthorized” is somewhat nebulous, however; although it could be read as bootleg or illegal, it may also be something as simple as “selling below the Recommended Retail Price” for each disc.

Certainly, the lawsuits don’t help with clarification on that point. As the Hollywood Reporter notes, “The complaints don’t offer much detail about the allegedly copyright infringing works that are up for sale besides claiming that they are violations of the rights, titles and interest of Warner Bros.” Nonetheless, attorneys working on behalf of the studio are being bold in their claims. One lawsuit alleges that the defendants, “through the online venue Amazon.com, distribute, promote, offer for sale and sell counterfeit copies of the Warner Bros. Works [and that] Warner Bros. is informed and believes and based thereon alleges that this infringement activity is systematic and willful or with reckless disregard of Warner Bros.’ intellectual property rights.”

There are a couple of things interesting about these new lawsuits. Firstly, it’s unsurprising that a studio is finally moving against what seems to be analog bootlegs sold through a digital marketplace, considering the longevity of that particular outlet – It’s actually more unexpected that this hasn’t happened earlier, and directed in the far-easier-to-use open marketplace of eBay, to be honest (For that matter, it’s only a matter of time before a studio or collection of studios decided to descend on a comic convention and issue legal papers on the number of dealers selling bootlegged material there).

Secondly, it’s odd that Warner Bros. is apparently limiting its legal action to the third party resellers and not Amazon.com at this time. As we’ve seen from lawsuits against YouTube and various file-sharing services in the past, normally studios have no problem going after those who seemingly facilitate the counterfeiters, but in this case, they’re holding back – Is it possible that Amazon is too important to the studios to risk upsetting by confronting directly?