SAN JOSE — EBay Inc. won what it called a precedent-setting court victory Thursday when a federal judge ruled that the Internet auction company was not liable for copyright infringement because bootleg copies of a Charles Manson documentary were sold on the site.
The case was one of several recently that have tested provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1998 law meant to stimulate Internet commerce while protecting copyrights.
But the other cases, such as the prosecution of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov, are based on provisions in the law that ban technologies that let people circumvent copyright protections.
The EBay case judge said it was the first to test whether a Web site has a "safe harbor" if people use the site to sell items that infringe copyrights.
Robert Hendrickson sued EBay in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles last year after the Internet company would not take down DVDs and videotapes of his 1972 documentary "Manson" that were being offered for sale. Hendrickson said the DVDs and tapes were pirated.
EBay asked Hendrickson to submit a statement detailing his claim through its Verified Rights Owner Program, which lets copyright holders request the removal of an infringing item. Hendrickson refused, saying his complaints should have been good enough.
Judge Robert J. Kelleher dismissed Hendrickson's request for damages from EBay, saying that the copyright infringement actually occurred offline. Although it may facilitate the sale of pirated material, "EBay does not have the right and ability to control such activity," the judge wrote.