eBay Cleared in copyright and trademark suit

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit against online auctioneer eBay Inc., a ruling the company said would immunize it against other copyright and trademark infringement claims.

U.S. District Judge Robert Keller on Thursday granted eBay's request for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by filmmaker Robert Hendrickson, who claimed eBay infringed on copyrights and trademarks he held by allowing the sale of pirated copies of a movie he produced. Between January and April, Hendrickson filed three separate lawsuits against eBay, CEO Meg Whitman and company lawyer Michael Richter, alleging that unauthorized copies of his movie "Manson," a documentary film about cult killer Charles Manson, were being sold on eBay in DVD format. The three suits were later consolidated.

The ruling, in Los Angeles District Court, clears eBay from liability as a venue where pirated items are sometimes bought and sold. The company successfully argued that under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act it should be viewed essentially as an Internet service provider that is protected from liability from claims brought by copyright owners for the sale by third parties of pirated items such as software, movies and songs.

"It is an extremely important ruling for us," said Richter, eBay's senior intellectual property counsel. "It provides us immunity under copyright and trademark law for listings offering potentially infringing items."

Richter said the ruling vindicated eBay's so-called verified rights owner, or VERO, program, a policy the company has been using to minimize the sale of infringing items on the auction site. Under the program, eBay encourages owners of intellectual property to report and request the removal of items listed for sale that allegedly infringe their rights.

The ruling also vindicates a practice eBay began late last year, when it began monitoring the site to search for items that appeared to be counterfeit or pirated. At the time, the company feared the monitoring could disqualify it from protection under the DMCA.

"The ruling confirms that although monitoring is not required, we can do so without any liability," Richter said.

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