Whether a former Bangor-area businessman willfully violated copyright law when he pirated movies and allegedly committed mail fraud by sending the DVDs to customers is at the heart of a trial that began Monday in U.S. District Court in Bangor.
Douglas Gordon, 52, who previously lived in Brewer but now resides in Mattawamkeag, earlier this year pleaded not guilty to copyright infringement and mail fraud. Gordon owned Edge Video in Bangor and Brewer, both of which are now closed.
The prosecution claims that Gordon was familiar with copyright law and knew that he did not have permission to make copies of films and sell them online for between $9.99 and $24.99. Gordon also allegedly committed mail fraud because customers expected to receive a DVD similar to ones sold at retail stores and large online sellers. The U.S. attorney’s office claims that Gordon sold more than 38,000 counterfeit copies of movies for nearly $590,000 in sales.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Moore told the jury of 10 men and three women, including one alternate, in his opening statement that Gordon was aware he was violating copyright laws since a warning from the FBI about illegally copying films appears on every legitimate DVD. He also said that after the credits roll at the end of a film, the copyright symbol — the letter C within a circle — appears.
Gordon’s attorney, Stephen Smith of Augusta, told jurors Monday that the prosecution could not prove that Gordon was familiar enough with copyright laws to show that he willfully violated them. Gordon was following the law as he understood it, Smith said.
Also, the videos Gordon copied and sold were in the public domain and no longer protected by copyright laws, according to his attorney.
“Art in the public domain is owned by the public, not the artist,” Smith said last week in an email. “This means [that] anyone in the public can use the public domain work without permission.”
Currently, work published in the U.S. before 1924 and work published before 1964 for which copyrights were not renewed are in the public domain, according to Smith.
Because of that, the “rare films” Gordon offered for sale on his websites FindRareDVDs.com, LostMoviesFound.com and LostMovieFinder.com were in the public domain and not subject to copyright laws, according to Smith. The websites have since been shut down.
In its trial brief, the prosecution said that Gordon sold at least five pirated movies, including “Babes in Toyland,” “Grey Fox” and “The Night They Saved Christmas,” with valid copyrights still in place.
The U.S. attorney’s office has said in court documents that despite being warned by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations in 2015 and in 2017 to cease his alleged illegal activities, Gordon ignored them and continued to unlawfully reproduce and sell tens of thousands of counterfeit copies of copyright-protected motion pictures and mail them to buyers. The indictment covers alleged copyright infringement during the first six months of 2014 and the final six months of 2016.
The prosecution also claims that Gordon committed mail fraud between April 2014 and January 2019 by sending counterfeit copies of DVDs to purchasers who believed they were purchasing authentic motion picture DVDs of good quality. The copies Gordon sold and mailed were of inferior quality, the indictment alleged.
The alleged victims include Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Mercury Pictures and the Walt Disney Co. Representatives from those film companies, along with Gordon’s former employees, are listed as witnesses for the prosecution.
Gordon is listed as a witness for the defense, as is Portland copyright attorney Jeff Joyce.
The trial is scheduled to end next week.
Gordon remains free on $2,500 unsecured bail.
If convicted, Gordon faces up to 20 years in federal prison on the mail fraud charge and up to three years in federal prison on the copyright infringement counts. He also could be fined up to $250,000 and be ordered to pay restitution if convicted.