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Musician Seeks $5.2 Billion in Damages from Apple, Amazon and CD Baby

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By Tim Cushing, republished from techdirt.

The laws surrounding IP can certainly be absurd, and the ever-extending copyright term has turned the phrase “for a limited time" into a joke in search of a punchline. But there's nothing so absurd as those who take these laws into their own hands, find a lawyer willing to represent foolsand pursue supposed infringement in court.

Roland Chambers from South Carolina has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Apple, Amazon and CD Baby over 12 original pieces of copyrighted sound recordings and two pieces of original artwork for the album cover. Chambers is looking for Apple to pay the larger amount. In total, the plaintiff is seeking an insane amount of over 5.2 billion dollars.


That's not a typo. Billion. $5.2 billion or a little over $1.7 billion per defendant. How did these defendants arrive at the receiving end of damage claims that rival IP abuser Zynga's market cap? I don't know either, but here are some of the accusations from Chambers' filing. (All punctuation/spelling errors from the original.)

On or about July of 2001, Plaintiff provided Defendant #3 (CD Baby) with five (5) compact disc including 12 original pieces of copyrighted sound recordings and two (pieces of artwork for the album cover. 

In consideration for the compact disc, Defendant #3 executed a consignment only contract, which included distribution of the five disc sent only, no reproduction clause, warehouse storage fees if not sold, and no ownership transfer of copyright. 

*A true and correct copy of the Note is attached hereto as Exhibit A.


[Quick interjection: there is no Exhibit A. There are only “demand breakdowns" for every defendant. And there's no asterisk anywhere in the filing that might give some indication what “Note" refers to. From where it's placed, one would assume it would be a copy of the contract with CDBaby, but nothing is provided other than Chambers' claims and bad math.]

No payment was reported or issued to plaintiff for any of the five disc. 

Plaintiff discovered the compact disc were still selling in March 2014 (beyond the quantity ever legally produced) and in various formats and demanded explanation, as well as payment. 

CD Baby was to distribute disc and not authorized to create any reproductions; however, more than five disc exist today, and CD Baby is only definitely aware of the whereabouts of one (1) disc. A representative states one (1) disc was sold and (3) were likely recycled/destroyed. This leaves one more disc unaccounted for prior to counterfeit units being placed on the market.


From this point, Amazon and Apple are both accused of allegedly selling Chambers' music without authorization (listed as “ringtones" on Apple's damages worksheet) “far beyond the quantity" authorized. Chambers supposedly gave Apple three songs to stream ("to poll the audience"), but Apple went ahead and made his whole album available digitally. Amazon apparently did likewise despite receiving notice several times to remove the material. 

Now, here's where things get really bizarre: the “statutory damages enhancement." 

The astronomical $1.7 billion is based mainly on Chambers' mistaken belief that statutory damages are awarded daily. If the unauthorized tracks were available for 4,745 days (roughly 13 years), then multiplying that by $30,000 per day gets you $1.7 billion. Of course, statutory damages don't work like that, but it's sort of amazing he didn't go for willful infringement and bring the total damages sought to $25 billion. Why not? It's not like we're talking about real money, real math or a real application of statutory damages here. 

Beyond the $30k per diem, Chambers throws in everything else he can think of. There's another $30k thrown on for “cost of statutory damages." There's $1 million per defendant for punitive damages “based on evidence," something which, at this point, is almost completely nonexistent. There's also another half-mil on the spreadsheet for using his two album pictures — a number seemingly pulled out of thin air and tacked on to the total. 

Because Chambers hasn't listed album or song titles in his complaint, it's hard to verify whether or not he actually registered the copyright on his creations. There aren't a ton of copyrights registered to “Roland Chambers," but there's not enough info available to confirm or deny Chambers' right to claim statutory damages. 

Chambers is also asking for attorneys' fees to be paid if he wins. Considering the “enhanced" math shown above, I'd be very interested in seeing Chambers' invoices for filing costs and billable hours.


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