This Week in Law (aka TWiL) Episode 20 is up. Hope you’ll give it a listen. I had a great time with my co-panelists Ben Franske, Colette Vogele, Ernie Svenson and host Denise Howell recording this episode. We talked about interesting things like copyright fair use, the first sale doctrine, and right-minded use of social media.
I’m working on gathering a list of the most important internet- and technology-related cases from the past year. There are many cases to choose from, and I’m trying to crowdsource the nomination process. I invite you to nominate the case or cases you think have been most significant by leaving a comment to this post. Think in terms of (1) the decision’s practical implications, (2) the novelty of the judge’s thinking, and (3) the “interestingness” of the facts.
For inspiration, browse the Internet Cases archives, or go visit Professor Goldman who doesn’t let much in the way of interesting cases slip by.
Thanks in advance for your help!
[Brian Beckham is a contributor to Internet Cases and can be contacted at brian.beckham [at] gmail dot com.]
Io Group, Inc. v. Veoh Networks, Inc., 2008 WL 4065872 (N.D.Cal. Aug. 27, 2008)
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Veoh’s hosting of user-provided content is protected by the DMCA safe harbor provision, and that it does not have a duty to police for potential copyright infringement on behalf of third-parties, but rather must act to remove infringing content when so put on notice.
IO produces adult films; Veoh hosts, inter alia, its own “Internet TV channels” and user-posted content (much like YouTube). In June 2006, IO discovered clips from ten (10) of its copyrighted films ranging from 6 seconds to 40 minutes in length hosted on Veoh. Rather than sending Veoh a “DMCA Notice & Takedown” letter, IO filed the instant copyright infringement suit. (Coincidentally, Veoh had already removed all adult content sua sponte — including IO’s prior to the suit). Had Veoh received such a notice, so the story goes, it would have removed the content, and terminated the posting individual’s account.
When a user submits a video for posting, Veoh’s system extracts certain metadata (e.g., file format and length), assigns a file number, extracts several still images (seen on the site as an icon), and converts the video to Flash. Prior to posting, Veoh’s employees randomly spot check the videos for compliance with Veoh’s policies (i.e., that the content is not infringing third-party copyrights). On at least one occasion, such a spot check revealed infringing content (an unreleased movie) which was not posted.
Veoh moved for summary judgment under the DMCA’s Safe Harbors which “provide protection from liability for: (1) transitory digital network communications; (2) system caching; (3) information residing on systems or networks at the direction of users; and (4) information location tools.” Ellison, 357 F.3d at 1076-77. Finding that Veoh is a Service Provider under the DMCA, the Court had little trouble in finding that it qualified for the Safe Harbors. IO admitted that Veoh “(a) has adopted and informed account holders of its repeat infringer policy and (b) accommodates, and does not interfere with, “standard technical measures” used to protect copyrighted works”, but took issue with the manner in which Veoh implemented its repeat infringer policy.
Veoh clearly established that it had a functioning DMCA Notice & Takedown system:
- Veoh has identified its designated Copyright Agent to receive notification of claimed violations and included information about how and where to send notices of claimed infringement.
- Veoh often responds to infringement notices the same day they are received.
- When Veoh receives notice of infringement, after a first warning, the account is terminated and all content provided by that user disabled.
- Veoh terminates access to other identical infringing files and permanently blocks them from being uploaded again.
- Veoh has terminated over 1,000 users for copyright infringement.
The Court held that Veoh did not have a duty to investigate whether terminated users were re-appearing under pseudonyms, but that as long as it continued to effectively address alleged infringements, it continued to qualify for the DMCA Safe Harbors; moreover, it did not have to track users’ IP addresses to readily identify possibly fraudulent new user accounts.
The Court further noted that: “In essence, a service provider [Veoh] is eligible for safe harbor under section 512(c) if it (1) does not know of infringement; or (2) acts expeditiously to remove or disable access to the material when it (a) has actual knowledge, (b) is aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent, or (c) has received DMCA-compliant notice; and (3) either does not have the right and ability to control the infringing activity, or – if it does – that it does not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity.”
The Court found that (1) there was no question that Veoh did not know of the alleged infringement — since IO did not file a DMCA Notice (2) it acted expeditiously to remove user-posted infringing content, (3) it did not have actual knowledge of infringement, (4) it was not aware of infringing activity, and (5) it did not have the right and ability to control the infringing activity (the Court did not address any financial benefit).
In sum: the Court “[did] not find that the DMCA was intended to have Veoh shoulder the entire burden of policing third-party copyrights on its website (at the cost of losing its business if it cannot). Rather, the issue [was] whether Veoh [took] appropriate steps to deal with [alleged] copyright infringement.”
There is much speculation as to how, if at all, this case will affect the Viacom / YouTube case. YouTube praised the decision, Viacom noted the differences. Each case turns on its own facts, but to the extent there are similarities, this decision is wind in YouTube’s sails.
This Week in Law (TWiL) episode 16 is up, and it’s an interesting one. I was really happy to be part of a super deluxe panel comprised of host Denise Howell, Nicole Black, Marty Schwimmer and Ernie Svenson. We talked about a number of interesting topics like the DMCA anticircumvention provisions, ediscovery, Viacom v. Google and other subjects. Hope you’ll have a listen.
Last week ReadWriteWeb profiled Privnote, which provides a service that purportedly allows you to send messages that will self destruct upon being read by the recipient. Great for back channel communications or the transmission of other private or sensitive information. Intriguing, to say the least.
Chan v. Priority Records, LLC, No. 07-15449, 2008 WL 2447147 (E.D. Mich. June 18, 2008)
Priority Records sued Candy Chan for copyright infringement, claiming she used iMesh to download and trade music files. The record company withdrew the suit when Ms. Chan told them it was her daughter that traded the files. The daughter became a defendant too, but that case was thrown out on a procedural issue.
Ms. Chan tried to recover her attorney’s fees in the copyright lawsuit against her, but the court denied the request. So she filed her own lawsuit against Priority Records, its law firm, and Settlement Support Center, alleging abuse of process and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
The defendants moved to dismiss. The court granted the motion.
It held that Ms. Chan’s claims could have — and, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 13(a) should have — been brought as compulsory counterclaims. Ms. Chan had raised these issues (but did not file the counterclaim) in the underlying copyright suit. Most of the allegations in this suit alleged illegal conduct occurring prior to the filing of the underlying copyright suit. And many of the allegations involved only Ms. Chan’s daughter, not Ms. Chan herself.
Judge Stein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled last week that use of portions of the song “Imagine” in the film “EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed” were protected as fair use. Plaintiffs Yoko Ono and record label EMI sued Defendants (the producers of the film) for copyright infringement seeking an injunction to stop the use. After hearing oral arguments and viewing the movie, the Court found that the Plaintiffs failed to meet the burden of showing irreparable harm since “on the basis of the current record, defendants are likely to prevail on their affirmative defense of fair use.”
“Expelled”, a full-length movie on intelligent design narrated by Ben Stein uses a 15-second clip of the song with the words “nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too” transposed on the screen over black and white archive sequences (including a military march and a close up of Stalin). Immediately preceding the excerpt several speakers express the hope that science will diminish religion. In a voiceover, Stein notes the speaker “would like you to think he’s being original but he’s merely lifting a page out of John Lennon’s songbook.”
According the one producer, “the film undertakes to inspire viewers to participate in the scientific, political, cultural, and religious debates surrounding [intelligent design].” Defendants obtained permission to include every song in the movie except Imagine. Defendants timed the films release to coincide with state “Academic Freedom” bills (which permit teachers to criticize the theory of evolution.)
The Court first determined that Plaintiffs established a prima facie case of copyright infringement by showing (1) ownership of a valid copyright and (2) unauthorized copying. Accordingly, absent the injunction there is a presumption of irreparable harm. Turning next to Defendants defense of fair use, the Court held that (quoting Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 and U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 8), that “some opportunity for fair use of copyrighted materials [is] necessary to fulfill copyright’s very purpose, ‘[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts. . . ‘.”
Taking the fair use factors into consideration, the Court held that: (1) the use of Imagine is not merely exploitative, and since the movie stimulates debate, the commercial purpose of “Expelled” weighs weakly against fair use (Defendants’ use is transformative and for purposes of criticism and commentary, i.e., “what the filmmakers see as the naïveté of John Lennon’s views [in that] ‘Imagine’ is a secular anthem caught in a loop of history recycling the same arguments from years past through to the present,” thus “it is not necessary that defendants [transform] the music or lyrics of the song”, nor that Defendant’s could have made the film without the clip, moreover, the failure to seek permission did not weigh against fair use (2) the film comments on the song, and does not exploit its creative virtues, (3) “both quantitatively and qualitatively, the portion of ‘Imagine’ that defendants copy is reasonable in light of their purpose for doing so [, and thus] weighs in favor of fair use”, and (4) there is absolutely no evidence that the film’s use will usurp the market for “Imagine.”
Balancing the potential hardships to the parties if an injunction were issued, the evidence favored Defendants, especially since Plaintiffs were not likely to lose any licensing revenue. Unless Yoko and EMI expel this decision on appeal, they will not Win Ben Stein’s Money.
Case is: Lennon v. Premise Media, No. 08-3813
A U.S. District Court judge in Minnesota presiding over the case of Capitol Records Inc. v. Jammie Thomas has issued an Order breathing new life into the Defendant’s case.
Thomas was found liable for copyright infringement for activities over the KaZaA network, and had moved for either a new trial or lowering of damages on the ground that the amount of the jury award ($220,000 for 24 songs at $9,250 each) was excessive and a violation of due process. The Court’s Order however, stated that it was “contemplating granting a new trial for a different reason”, because Jury Instruction No. 15 which stated that that “[t]he act of making copyrighted sound recordings available for electronic distribution on a peer‐to‐peer network, without license from the copyright owners, violates the copyright owners’ exclusive right of distribution, regardless of whether actual distribution has been shown” was contrary to prevailing case law. Specifically, the Court noted that binding Eighth Circuit precedent from National Car Rental System, Inc. v. Computer Associates Int’l, Inc., required that “[i]nfringement of [the distribution right] requires an actual dissemination of either copies or phonorecords…”
The order notes that this precedent appears to require “actual dissemination” but that neither party brought this to the Court’s attention. The Order goes on to state that “at least one authority relied upon by Plaintiffs…Atlantic Recording Corp. v. Howell [blogged here], has since been vacated, and, on reconsideration, that court has now held that making sound recordings available for distribution is not actionable under the Copyright Act and that ‘actual distribution’ is required.” The Court invited amicus briefs on the issue, and will hear arguments in the case on July 1, 2008.
Case is: Civil File No. 06‐1497 (MJD/RLE)