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Oakley v. Amazon.Com, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

January 31, 2017

REGINALD OAKLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
AMAZON.COM, INC., CREATESPACE.COM, KTNDLE.COM, PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE, AUTHOR SOLUTIONS LLC, and JOHN DOE THIRD- PARTY SELLERS, Defendants.

          ORDER

          RICHARD W. STORY, United States District Judge

         On October 7, 2016, Magistrate Judge Alan J. Baverman granted Plaintiff Reginald Oakley leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this case. It is now before the Court for a frivolity determination. Also before the Court are Defendant Amazon.com, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss [5], Plaintiffs Motion to Proceed and to Appoint Counsel [6], and Plaintiffs Motion to Proceed to Grant Rights to Relatives [7]. After reviewing the record, the Court enters the following Order.

         Background

         Plaintiff is an author and the owner of Oakley Publishing and Patents LLC. (Compl., Dkt. [3] ¶ 4.) He has self-published two books, Murder After Super Bowl XXXIV (U.S. Copyright No. TX 8-224-209), and Memories of Murder: To Hell and Back (U.S. Copyright No. TX 8-131-618). (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiffs books are printed via print-on-demand ("POD"), which is a "printing technology and business process" where an author's books are printed only to satisfy specific orders. (Id ¶ 14.) Both books provide Plaintiffs own account of a double murder that took place after Super Bowl XXXIV. (Id ¶ 15.) Defendant Amazon.com, Inc. ("Amazon") "is the world's largest online retailer" and owns Defendants Createspace.com ("Createspace") and Kindle.com ("Kindle"). (Id.¶5.) Defendant Penguin Random House ("Penguin") sells books through Amazon's online bookstore and owns Defendant Author Solutions LLC ("Author Solutions"). (Id. ¶ 6.) Broadly, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated federal antitrust laws and infringed his copyrights while offering his books for sale online.

         According to Plaintiff, in 2005, Amazon entered a new market by purchasing BookSurge and other POD publishing companies. (Id. ¶25.) Penguin also entered the POD market by purchasing Author Solutions. (Id.) No later than February of 2008, Amazon decided it would only sell POD books directly to consumers if those books were printed using BookSurge. (Id ¶ 27.) In 2009, Plaintiff self-published Murder After Super Bowl XXXIV through Amazon's POD company Createspace. (Id. ¶ 29.) And in 2010, Plaintiff self-published Memories of Murder: To Hell and Back using Penguin's POD company Author Solutions. (Id.) Later in 2010, Plaintiff stopped the printing and sale of both books as less than 50 copies of each were sold. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Amazon, Createspace, Penguin, and Author Solutions deceived him and other POD authors "by falsely claiming to have given Plaintiff 'Free' ISBN numbers for [his two copyrighted books, and] permanently 'tying' the 'Free' ISBN numbers to Plaintiffs books." (Id. ¶ 30.) That, in turn, allowed those Defendants to later maintain ownership of the "free" ISBN numbers to control Plaintiffs books in the online book markets. (Id.)

         Plaintiff further alleges that, in 2010, Plaintiff stopped the printing and sale of books through Amazon, Kindle, and Createspace, and cancelled his contract with Penguin and Author Solutions because his unedited books were leaked online. (Id. ¶ 32.) Nonetheless, third-party sellers on Defendants' websites claimed to have more used copies of Plaintiff s books than the amount initially sold according to Amazon's royalty report. (Id ¶ 33.)

         Sometime later, Penguin and Author Solutions allegedly emailed Plaintiff a corrupt and altered copy of his own book, Memories of Murder: To Hell and Back. (Id. ¶ 34.) Then, in 2011, Plaintiff claims that Defendants used software to circumvent his web browser and to manipulate and collect Plaintiffs personal information. (Id. ¶ 35.) Defendants then created a portal on Amazon's webpage for Plaintiffs books by attaching excerpts of an unrelated book. (Id ¶ 36.) Plaintiff seems to allege that those excerpts contained phrases that were threatening to Plaintiff personally. (Id.)

         In 2012, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants took control of his books on Amazon's website by "tying" them together and aggressively marketing them without his permission. (Id ¶ 37.) Defendants also allegedly violated Plaintiffs copyrights by enabling the "Look Inside" feature on his books without his permission. (Id. ¶ 38.) In 2016, Plaintiffs books were unattached from the allegedly threatening excerpts and removed from Amazon's website. (Id.¶45.)

         Based on the allegations above, Plaintiff brings four causes of action: one count for illegal tying in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1 (Count I); two counts of copyright infringement in violation of 17 U.S.C. § 501, one for infringement of Murder After Super Bo wl XXXIV (U.S. Copyright No. TX 8-224-209) (Count II) and another for infringement of Memories of Murder: To Hell and Back (U.S. Copyright No. TX 8-131-618) (Count III); and one count for unfair and deceptive trade practices under 15 U.S.C. § 45 (Count IV).

         Discussion

         I. Amazon's Motion to Dismiss [5]

         A. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." While this pleading standard does not require "detailed factual allegations, " mere labels and conclusions or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In order to withstand a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' " Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A complaint is plausible on its face ...


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