Amazon, Lee Child & John Grisham Win $7.8m Judgment Against eBook Pirates

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In 2020, Amazon teamed up with publisher Penguin Random House and authors including Lee Child and John Grisham to sue several pirate eBook sites operating out of Ukraine. After a tortuous legal process, a Washington court has awarded the maximum available statutory damages of $7.8 million.

LawsuitIn a summer 2020 lawsuit, Amazon Content Services, publisher Penguin Random House and several authors including John Grisham and Lee Child, accused several pirate eBook sites of infringing their copyrights.

The sites, which operated under the ‘Kiss Library’ brand, were available from domains including Kissly.net, Wtffastspring.bid, Libly.net, and Cheap-Library.com. Together they provided access to copyrighted works at “unbeatable prices”, largely due to the eBooks being pirated, the plaintiffs said.

The lawsuit aimed to put the sites out of business and also claw back damages from Ukrainian nationals Rodion Vynnychenko and Artem Besshapochny, who were said to be behind the platforms.

A preliminary injunction was quickly handed down by a Washington court which prevented payment processors, domain registrars, hosts, back-end service providers, affiliate program providers, web designers, and search engines from doing business with the sites. The court also ordered assets to be restrained.

Early on it became clear the case was unlikely to be straightforward. Judge Marsha J. Pechman acknowledged that the defendants had “gone to great lengths” to frustrate the plaintiffs and the court by using “multiple false identities and addresses” and “purposely-deceptive contact information.”

What followed was a voyage through a clearly compromised Ukrainian legal system with a local court admitting that it lacked basics such as postal stamps and envelopes.

Defendants Failed to Participate in Lawsuit

According to a judgment recently handed down by the Washington court, neither of the defendants participated in the lawsuit but have taken efforts to avoid accountability. They did not respond to a motion for a temporary restraining order and Vynnychenko twice refused to accept service. He also failed to appear at a proceeding required under Ukrainian law.

They were served in compliance with Hague Convention rules, however, so the plaintiffs moved for and obtained default against the defendants. All that remained was the question of damages and a permanent injunction.

Judge Pechman notes that there is “little doubt” that her court has jurisdiction, in part due to the defendants directing their piracy scheme at residents of Washington, where Amazon Publishing has its headquarters.

“Defendants advertised and distributed the copyrighted works at issue to Washington consumers in violation of the Copyright Act, duping consumers and interfering with the Author Plaintiffs’ licensing relationship with Plaintiff Amazon who suffered a loss of sales in Washington,” she writes.

“Second, Plaintiffs’ copyright infringement arise from and relate to Defendants’ forum-related activities, given that Defendants knowingly and intentionally infringed on a Washington-based company’s copyrighted works and compete with the company in Washington.”

Court Awards $7.8m in Damages

Since the defendants failed to appear, the court accepted as true the plaintiffs’ allegations that 52 copyrighted works were willfully copied, displayed and distributed. They asked for $7.8 million in statutory damages, the maximum available for the works in suit.

This large figure gave the court reason to “pause” but following consideration, the Judge found the amount to be appropriate under the circumstances.

“[G]iven the extent of the piracy scheme, Defendants’ efforts to fight or participate in this lawsuit, and the seriousness of the misconduct, the Court finds that the requested damages are reasonable,” the judgment reads.

“The Court therefore awards Plaintiffs’ the maximum statutory amount of $150,000 for each of the [copyrighted works].”

Noting that the damages award alone would be insufficient, Judge Pechman also issued a permanent injunction against defendants Kiss Library, Rodion Vynnychenko, Artem Besshapochny, their agents, and any persons acting in concert or participation with them.

The order can be found here (pdf)

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