Ars Technica reports that Alki David, a dude with more money than you, has filed a lawsuit against CNET, along with parent corporation CBS, for hosting copies of LimeWire software for download on their popular download.com service. For those unfamiliar with download.com, it’s a handy little reputable hosting site for just about any piece of free and legal software you could think of. For those unfamiliar with Limewire….good.
The story of a company getting sued because they hosted software that someone might download then might use to download something that might be music isn’t where the story gets weird, though. For starters, the dude suing CNET, Alki David, was the creator of a service called FilmOn which rebroadcasts live TV signals. FilmOn was sued by a number of broadcasters, including CBS among a multitude of others. Suffice to say, David is surely feeling mighty sore already going into this next case.
The question of who’s at fault here, though, is going to be a tough one. On the one hand, common sense would seem to indicate that only the people responsible for illegal downloads would be held accountable. People like Jammie Thomas-Rasset, the first of the RIAA’s filesharing lawsuits to go to court, who received a verdict of nearly $2m in penalties for downloading 24 songs. The problem, however, is that targeting individual users would be a costly affair. There’s literally millions of content pirates worldwide, and the resources it would take to hunt them all down and get their fair share would likely bankrupt many content producers.
So, what’s the next logical step? Go after the people who enable such piracy! This is what occurred when the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) took the Pirate Bay to trial back in 2009. The claim was that their site, as well as their tracking service, encouraged and facilitated the illegal downloading and sharing of copyrighted materials, even though none of TPB’s servers ever hosted any of the copyrighted material, nor transferred any of the material through their servers. The judge in this case was unphased by such arguments and the hammer was brought down on the Bay.
Obviously Swedish law is not U.S. law, but the trend seems to be pretty universal. Big Content is not backing down on the idea that sharing files online is tantamount to theft (an arguable assumption, but that’s an article for another day), but they can’t very well target the people who are actually doing the deed (that would be you, by the way, you dirty dirty thieves). So, who’s left? Well….anyone who’s ever said publicly “hey, here’s how you can do it,” apparently.
Of course, peer-to-peer software is not, itself, illegal. In fact, peer-to-peer software can be used for very legal purposes. The classic example of many linux distributions that are distributed via P2P networks comes to mind. The question, though, is if mentioning the ability to download music and movies constitutes “encouraging piracy”.
And this is where a lot of Alki David’s case seems to come from. While it may come as a shock to a lot of you, CNET also has a blog. A blog where, on occasion, they may or may not have mentioned that people sometimes pirate things and that, while yeah, everybody does it, you probably shouldn’t do it, but if you’re gonna do it anyways, here, at least take this condo-..err…software.
Of course, if saying “piracy happens, here’s how it works” is a sin, then just about every tech blogger out there is likely on the hook for “encouraging” piracy. The question is just how far does the “encouraging piracy” line go in indicating liability? And at what point do you start to run afoul of free speech?
In this case, not only was CNET not the one downloading any illegal files, it did not create the software, did not host any trackers, and did not have anything to do with the transfer of files besides the P2P client itself. It’s a tenuous connection. The bulk of the case seems to lie more on the blog posts that lead one to believe CNET may encourage piracy. But is this a punishable offense?
I guess that’s up to the courts for now.