A coalition led by producer, director, and digital distribution entrepeneur Alki David is suing CBS Interactive and CNET. CBS has owned CNET since 2008.
The plaintiffs claim CNET's operation of download sites offering P2P software makes them liable for secondary copyright infringement as defined by the Supreme Court in the Grokster case.
At first glance, it's hard to tell if this is an honest attempt to take advantage of the current law enforcement and judicial environment which has set the bar for assigning liability for copyright infringement ridiculously low. It could, instead be a brilliantly planned satirical attack on bills like PROTECT IP and SOPA, and even the ACTA intellectual property treaty.
Given David's dual roles in both Internet innovation and film production and distribution, it really could be either one. However, considering the co-plaintiffs, which include Sugar Hill Music and the estate of William Tennyson, their intentions are probably serious.
The lawsuit alleges:
Defendants' essential role in the massive infringement of the Plaintiffs' works renders Defendants liable for that infringement on any of the three doctrines of indirect or secondary liability as articulated and developed in recent precedents concerning P2P technology. Defendants at all times had the ability to control the actions of the direct infringers by refusing to distribute and otherwise promote the software platforms Defendants knew were the engines of the infringers' massive infringement. Defendants at all times also could have ceased their efforts to instruct users as to the means of copyright infringement through this new software, but, in naked pursuit of the dramatic profits they made from that distribution, Defendants chose not to do so. Defendants are also subject to contributary liability, because they had ongoing and specific knolwdge of the massive infringement carried out through the P2P software and materially contributed to that infringement by distributing and promoting the software, providing instruction as to its use and relative efficacy for purposes of infringement and ensuring the direct infringers had access to the most recent and least detectable infringing technologies. In addition, Defendants induced direct infringement by clearly and purposefully targeting and catering their services to the P2P infringement community. In fact, on information and believe, Defendants specifically encouraged CNET editors to promote and encourage P2P software and, in general, the culture of copyright infringement that evolved in the P2P community.
If there's one key piece of evidence included in the complaint which ties CNET's actions directly to the Grokster decision, it would seem to be the fact CNET provided videos demonstrating the use of various P2P clients for finding obviously infringing content.
To put this into context, in the Grokster ruling, the Supreme Court found a company could be liable for secondary infringement if they promote their product as being useful for copyright infringement.
Combine that with the government's stated opinion that advertising revenue from websites with even user-posted links to infringing material constitutes contributory infringement, and it seems like a pretty strong case.
Not by coincidence, it also reads like an indictment of the changes to copyright policy made in recent years. The complaint is long, but also a thoroughly educational read.
Written by: Rich Fiscus @ 16 Nov 2011 15:14