All the News That’s Fit to Search

The NY Times reports that the Internet Archive–home of The Wayback Machine, the Live Music Archive, and other databases–now includes “every morsel of news produced in the last three years by 20 different channels, encompassing more than 1,000 news series that have generated more than 350,000 separate programs devoted to news.” Want to view every clip during the past three years from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report that mentions Mitt Romney? Want total immersion in Fox News? Go to http://archive.org/details/tv and start watching.

Time-Shifting?

From a former student who always has interesting things to say on Internet law topics:

Say, doesn’t this sound like the Betamax case?  Wouldn’t the “time-shifting” argument held by the Supreme Court still hold?

The Sony decision did not create an absolute right to time-shift. The Court recognized time-shifting to be fair use in that case–by a 5-4 decision, not a slam dunk–in part because the recorded programs had originally been broadcast for users to watch them once, and most Betamax users watched their recorded programs once, shifting only the time at which they watched them. (Another reason the Court ruled for Sony is that the plaintiffs represented only a small portion of copyright holders affected by video recording. Other copyright holders–the sports networks, PBS, Mr. Rogers–did not object to their content being recorded by Betamax users.) YouTube is not perfectly analogous to the old broadcast networks, Sony does not fit perfectly.

Supreme Court Rejects Tenenbaum Appeal

Categorize this as dog-bites-man news but since I’ve posted about the Tenenbaum case many times ($675k, More on Tenenbaum, More on the Tenenbaum Judgment, Tenenbaum Postscript, $.70 a Song, and Court Reinstates Tenenbaum Damage Award), and discuss it in class I’ll note that the U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, decided not to hear Joel Tenenbaum’s appeal in his music-piracy case. This is not the end of the case; the federal district court in Boston must decide whether to leave standing the jury’s award of $675,000 in damages to the recording industry.

This is a strange case whose longevity (it began in 2007) reflects its status as an ideological battleground over music piracy–however poorly chosen a field of battle it offers to file-sharing’s true believers.

April 1st Arrived Early

In its ceaseless quest to evade the law The Pirate Bay announced plans to build drone-based airborne servers–what it called Low Orbit Server Stations (LOSS)–destruction of which the site said would be “a real act of war.” TPB is nothing if not amusing. Flying file-sharing drones is not an inherently crazy idea–well, maybe it is inherently crazy, but the Electronic Countermeasures project has created them. Not the same as what The Huffington Post describes as TPB’s “madcap, potentially tongue-in-cheek, but brilliant scheme,” but on the same continuum. It is brilliant–as marketing, not a workable plan to avoid the law.

I think LOSS really stands for Laughing Our Selves Silly.*

*Or other words that start with S.

I Want My Megaupload Files*

Among the interesting legal issues raised by the U.S. Justice Department’s shutdown of Megaupload.com and criminal prosecution of its managers is whether those who used the site to store non copyright-infringing works will be able to retrieve their data. The government claims Megaupload’s legitimate data-transfer service was a front for systematic copyright-infringement, but there’s no claim that those engaged in legitimate uses were benefiting from or knowingly contributing to unlawful activity. So while the government prepares its case those legitimate users hang in limbo, unable to retrieve their data. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, with the support of Carpathia Hosting, is gathering information from those affected through megaretrieval.com and may initiate legal action to hasten the effort.

*not me personally.

File-Sharing Litigation Groundhog Day

RIAA file-sharing punching bag Jammie Thomas-Rasset lost for the third time, a Minnesota jury finding her liable on Wednesday for copyright infringement and ordering that she pay damages of $1.5 million.  A 2007 jury trial resulted in a $222,000 RIAA damage award against Thomas-Rasset.  She appealed, there was a retrial in 2009, and she lost again:  liability for copyright infringement and $1.92 million in damages to the RIAA.  The trial judge reduced that “monstrous and shocking” award to $54,000.  The RIAA offered to settle for $25,000, Thomas-Rasset refused, and the RIAA tried its case again, which brings us back to Wednesday’s verdict.  Thomas-Rasset’s counsel said she would appeal–to the federal judge who reduced the $1.92 million award.

LimeWire Shut Down

“If file-sharing copyrighted songs is against the law, why is LimeWire still operating?”  Students have asked this question countless times, and countless times I’ve answered it. There are no copyright police; copyright holders must pursue civil lawsuits to remedy claims of copyright infringement; they must prove their claims in court; civil litigation is slow.  Some imagine that all a copyright holder need do to shut down a file-sharing site is to show the court a copy of the decision shutting down Napster.  It’s not that simple, efficient, quick, or inexpensive.

Students can discard the question because yesterday a federal judge ordered LimeWire “to disable [its] ‘searching, downloading, uploading, file trading and/or file distribution functionality.'”  This injunction does not end file-sharing, of course.  It moves the RIAA’s focus to its next litigation target.

Monetizing Piracy

An Ars Technica story provides more information about the U.S Copyright Group’s litigation campaign against movie downloaders.  As mentioned here in March (see Bit Torrent-ers Beware) the Group is the revenue-generating brainchild of a Virgina law firm.  As reported by Ars Technica it’s a simple idea:  identify downloads of an independent film, team up with film’s producers, sue the anonymous John Does for copyright infringement, subpoena their identities, agree to settle for short money (compared to going to trial), split the proceeds with the film’s producers, rinse, repeat.  Ars Technica identifies the films and number of defendants named in the eight suits, all filed since January 2010 in D.C. federal court ; The Hurt Locker is the best-known.  U.S. Copyright Group has sued over 14,800 defendants to date.  If the plaintiffs obtained an average of just $500 per defendant (a number I pulled out of the thin air) they would gross $7.4 million.  From where I sit $500 per defendant seems plausible–some John Does will remain unidentified, some won’t exist, some will be judgment-proof, but even so an average of $500 per defendant is not a ridiculous plug number.  Whether the lawyers’ costs come off the top or not, and even if the costs are $100/defendant, the net would be about $6 million.  Ars Technica plugs in larger numbers to calculate a settlement pot of close to $20 million.  Whoever is closer, it’s real money.