Hamlin v. Trans-Dapt of Cal., Inc., Civil Action No. 3:07-cv-01027

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtThomas A. Wiseman, Jr.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:07-cv-01027
Decision Date03 November 2008

584 F. Supp. 2d 1050,

Copy. L. Rep. (CCH) P29,655

Plaintiff, v.
INC., Defendant.

Civil Action No. 3:07-cv-01027


November 3, 2008, Decided

For Robert Scott Hamlin, Plaintiff: James Harold Harris, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Gordon, Martin, Jones & Harris, Nashville, TN.

For Trans-Dapt of California, Inc., Defendant: Kenneth J. Sanney, LEAD ATTORNEY, John A. Day, Day & Blair, P.C., Brentwood, TN. Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr., Senior U.S. District Judge.


[584 F. Supp. 2d 1051] MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Robert Scott Hamlin brings this action against defendant Trans-Dapt of California, Inc. ("Trans-Dapt") for damages and injunctive relief on the grounds of alleged copyright infringement and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA"). Trans-Dapt concedes that it infringed upon Hamlin's copyrighted work. Now before the Court is Trans-Dapt's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 24) in which the defendant seeks judgment in its favor on three specific legal issues: (1) that Hamlin is entitled to one statutory damages award based on the infringement of one copyrighted work rather than numerous statutory damages awards based on the alleged number of infringements; (2) that Trans-Dapt's infringement was "innocent"; and (3) that Hamlin has failed to state a valid claim under the TCPA.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Trans-Dapt is entitled to judgment in its favor as a matter of law as to the first and third issues presented: Hamlin will be entitled to statutory damages [584 F. Supp. 2d 1052] based upon the infringement of one copyrighted work; and his TCPA claim must be dismissed. Material factual disputes, however, preclude summary judgment on the question of whether Trans-Dapt should be considered an innocent infringer.


For purposes of the defendant's motion, the basic facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated. On or about August 8, 2003, plaintiff Hamlin created a non-dramatic literary work entitled "Project Z06 S10" which he registered with the Copyright Office of the United States under number TX 5-860-337. (Project Z06 S10 is hereafter referred to as the "Copyrighted Work" or the "Work"). The copy of the Copyrighted Work that Hamlin deposited with the United States Copyright Office does not contain a copyright notice. Although Hamlin certified under oath that the copy of the Work that he attached as an exhibit to his Complaint was a true and accurate copy of the Copyrighted Work, the exhibit version does have a copyright notice as well as certain other minor changes and additions. Hamlin describes his Work as a "how-to book, a guide or manual that provides photographs and text to assist the reader with the installation of a 405 horsepower Z06 engine into a Chevrolet pickup truck." (Compl. P 10.)

At some point after the copyright was issued on November 11, 2003 but sometime before April 2007, Neil Matranga, while employed by Trans-Dapt and in his capacity as products manager for Trans-Dapt, purchased a copy of the Copyrighted Work off the internet site eBay. According to Joe Jacques, a Trans-Dapt employee who was familiar with the copy of the Work obtained from eBay, he did not recall that the copy from eBay displayed a copyright notice anywhere on it. Another Trans-Dapt employee, Kevin Vandergriff, has affirmatively testified that the copy obtained from eBay did not contain a copyright notice. Trans-Dapt has not produced the copy of the Copyrighted Work that it obtained from eBay, but Hamlin disputes Trans-Dapt's allegation that its copy did not contain a copyright notice only by stating that this "fact is solely within the knowledge, possession, and control of Defendant." (Doc. No. 35, Response to P 8.) Hamlin has not presented any evidence regarding his efforts to ensure that the copies of the Work he sold or distributed contained a copyright notice or when he began including a copyright notice on the copies of the Work that he distributed.

In any event, after it obtained a copy of Hamlin's Work, Trans-Dapt began publishing and distributing a non-dramatic literary work headed "LS01, LS06 5.7L or Vortec 4.8, 5,3 or 6.0L ENGINE INTO A TWO-WHEEL DRIVE 1982-1999 CHEVY S-10 OR GMC S-15." According to Trans-Dapt, the referenced document is an instruction sheet (hereafter, "Instruction Sheet") included with motor mount brackets that Trans-Dapt manufactured and sold. (See Doc. No. 1-9.) Trans-Dapt admits that its original Instruction Sheet reproduced copies of certain photographs first published in Hamlin's Copyrighted Work. For purposes of summary judgment, Trans-Dapt also admits that the Instruction Sheet included "a small amount of the text" copied from Hamlin's Work. Hamlin testified in his deposition that he became aware that Trans-Dapt was copying his Work when he ordered a set of motor mount brackets from Trans-Dapt and discovered that the packaging information enclosed with the brackets included photographs and text from his Copyrighted Work.

Trans-Dapt allegedly became aware of Hamlin's copyright in the Work when it received a "cease and desist" letter dated [584 F. Supp. 2d 1053] April 13, 2007 from Hamlin's counsel. That letter states in relevant part: Your instruction sheets for the 4536 Motor Mount Bracket ("the 4536 instruction sheets") . . . includes [sic] several photographs that appear to be copies of copyrighted photographs owned by Mr. Hamlin. . . .

Mr. Hamlin uses his copyrighted photographs in a project book he sells to customers who are interested in installing a General Motors LS1 engine into an S-Series truck. . . .

Mr. Hamlin demands that you immediately cease and desist from using his copyrighted materials in any manner, including in your 4536 instruction sheets. (Doc. No. 25-3.) Trans-Dapt asserts that it understood this letter to indicate that only the photographs in the Copyrighted Work were copyrighted, not the text. Consequently, in response, Trans-Dapt revised its Instruction Sheet to replace the photographs with drawings but continued using some of the text from the Copyrighted Work. The parties have not indicated to the Court what portions of the text in the Copyrighted Work were reproduced in Trans-Dapt's Instruction Sheets.

Hamlin filed this law suit for copyright infringement in October 2007.


In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, this Court will only consider the narrow question of whether there are "genuine issues as to any material fact and [whether] the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A motion for summary judgment requires that the Court view the "'inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts . . . in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.'" Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S. Ct. 993, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1962)). The opponent, however, has the burden of showing that a "rational trier of fact [could] find for the non-moving party [or] that there is a 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of plaintiff's position[, however,] will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). If the evidence offered by the nonmoving party is "merely colorable," or "not significantly probative," or not enough to lead a fair-minded jury to find for the nonmoving party, the motion for summary judgment should be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-52. "A genuine dispute between the parties on an issue of material fact must exist to render summary judgment inappropriate." Hill v. White, 190 F.3d 427, 430 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-49).


A. Hamlin Is Entitled to One Damages Award Based on Infringement of One Copyrighted Work.

In the "Prayer for Relief" portion of his Complaint, Hamlin requests that the Court "find Defendant liable to Plaintiff for willful copyright infringement for each separate act of infringement" and that it order the defendant to pay, in the alternative to actual damages, statutory damages "for each infringement of each work infringed." (Compl. at 8.) In its motion, Trans-Dapt asserts that Hamlin has failed to raise a viable claim for more than one award of statutory damages based on the fact that only one copyrighted work was infringed. The Court agrees, and finds [584 F. Supp. 2d 1054] that Hamlin's argument for damages based on the number of infringements is premised on a prior version of the Copyright Act, which was amended in 1976.

The current section of the Copyright Act allowing recovery of "statutory damages" states in relevant part: Except as provided by clause (2) of this subsection, the copyright owner may elect, at any time before final judgment is rendered, to recover, instead of actual damages and profits, an award of statutory damages for all infringements involved in the action, with respect to any one work, for which any one infringer is liable individually[.] 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)(1) (emphasis added). Although this provision certainly has the potential to generate confusion regarding whether the term "work" refers to an infringed work or an infringing work, most courts agree that whatever ambiguity might have arisen was effectively dispelled by the statute's legislative history. The relevant history clearly documents Congress's intent, as follows: Although . . . an award of minimum statutory damages may be multiplied if separate works and separately liable infringers are involved in the suit, a single award . . . is to be made "for...

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