United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
Roland Chambers, Plaintiff, Pro se, Columbia, SC.
For Apple Inc, Defendant: Cherie Wilson Blackburn, LEAD ATTORNEY, Nexsen Pruet (Chas), Charleston, SC; David R Eberhart, PRO HAC VICE, O'Melveny & Myers LLP, San Francisco, CA; David J Sepanik, PRO HAC VICE, O'melveny & Myers LLP, San Francisco, CA.
For Amazon.com Inc, CD Baby, Defendants: William Francis Marion, Jr, LEAD ATTORNEY, Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, Greenville, SC; Joseph M Armstrong, PRO HAC VICE, Offit Kurman, P.A., Philadelphia, PA.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Paige J. Gossett, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
The plaintiff, Roland Chambers, a self-represented litigant, filed this action alleging that the defendants infringed on Chambers's exclusive right to reproduction of copyrighted material in violation of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., and violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 1201 et seq. This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) DSC for a Report and Recommendation on the defendants' motions to dismiss. (ECF Nos. 28, 45 .) Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court advised Chambers of the summary judgment and dismissal procedures and the possible consequences if he failed to respond adequately to the defendants' motions. (ECF Nos. 32, 46.) Chambers filed a response in opposition to the defendants' motions (ECF Nos. 42, 53), and the defendants replied (ECF Nos. 44, 54). Chambers additionally filed a sur-reply. (ECF No. 56.) Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court finds that the defendants' motions to dismiss should be granted.
Chambers alleges that he provided Defendant CD Baby with five compact discs including twelve " original pieces of copyrighted sound recordings and two pieces of artwork for the album cover" in July of 2001. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) Chambers claims that he and CD Baby executed a " consignment only" contract for distribution of the five compact discs. (Id.) In March of 2014, Chambers discovered that the compact discs were still selling and allegedly demanded an explanation and payment; however, no " payment was reported or issued to [Chambers] for any of the five disc[s]." (Id.) Chambers claims that Defendant Amazon.com Inc. (" Amazon") allowed " third party sellers to continue selling copyrighted material not owned, and likely counterfeit based on disc produced." (Id.) Defendant Apple Inc. (" Apple") is named for providing access to twelve pieces of work in digital formats without Chambers's consent or permission. (Id.) Chambers seeks over five billion dollars in damages. (Id. at 3.)
A. Motion to Dismiss Standard
A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) examines the legal sufficiency of the facts alleged on the face of the plaintiff's complaint. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, " [f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The " complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible when the factual content allows the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. When considering a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007). A court may consider " documents attached or incorporated into the complaint" without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011). Further, " a court may consider official public records, documents central to plaintiff's claim, and documents sufficiently referred to in the complaint so long as the authenticity of these documents is not disputed." Witthohn v. Fed. Ins. Co., 164 F.App'x 395, 396-97 (4th Cir. 2006) (citing Alt. Energy, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 267 F.3d 30, 33 (1st Cir. 2001); Phillips v. LCI Int'l, Inc., 190 F.3d 609, 618 (4th Cir. 1999) (permitting consideration of extraneous material if such materials are " integral to and explicitly relied on in the complaint"); Gasner v. Dinwiddie, 162 F.R.D. 280, 282 (E.D. Va. 1995) (permitting district court to take judicial notice of public documents, such as court records, even when the documents are neither referenced by nor integral to plaintiff's complaint).
In applying this standard, the court observes that it is required to liberally construe pro se complaints. Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94. Such pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, id.; Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9, 101 S.Ct. 173, 66 L.Ed.2d 163 (1980); Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 92 S.Ct. 1079, 31 L.Ed.2d 263 (1972). When a federal court is evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's factual allegations are assumed to be true. Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93. The mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so; however, a district court may not rewrite a complaint to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128 (10th Cir. 1999), construct the plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411 (7th Cir. 1993), or " conjure up questions never squarely presented" to the court, Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).
B. Copyright Act and Digital Millennium Copyright Act Claims
The Copyright Act grants copyright protection to " original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression." 17 U.S.C. § 102(a). To establish a claim of copyright infringement, a plaintiff must show: (1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) that the defendant copied the original elements of the copyrighted work. Feist Publ'n, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361, 111 S.Ct. 1282, 113 L.Ed.2d 358 (1991); Keeler Brass Co. v. Cont'l Brass Co., 862 F.2d 1063, 1065 (4th Cir. 1988). The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (" DMCA") " was enacted both to preserve copyright enforcement on the Internet and to provide immunity to service providers from copyright infringement liability" for certain actions. ALS Scan, Inc. v. RemarQ Cmtys., Inc., 239 F.3d 619, 625 (4th Cir. 2001). Although the Complaint fails to cite any particular statutory provision of either Act, Chambers indicates a violation of his exclusive reproduction rights, and " [s]ection 106 of the Copyright Act confers a bundle of exclusive rights to the owner of the copyright, " including the right to reproduce the copyrighted work. Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. ...