Is Amazon's New Silk 'Cloud' Browser A Huge Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Waiting To Happen?

from the caching dept

There's been plenty of fanfare over Amazon's new Android-based e-reader, the Kindle Fire, with one interesting feature being the new Silk browser, which is differentiated by the fact that it's built on top of Amazon's cloud web services storage, allowing it to effectively cache and optimize content on its own servers. But this raises a big question. As Stephan Kinsella points out, technically, this may be copyright infringment. First up, here's Amazon's video explanation of the browser:
Based on the info in that video, Kinsella explains the legal concerns:
One smart thing Silk does to speed up web browsing as seen by the user of the Kindle Fire by “pre-loading” content into Amazon’s “cache” in its own “Amazon computer cloud” (i.e. Amazon’s servers)–and to optimize them for the Kindle Fire (e.g., a 3MB image is scaled down maybe to 50k because that would look the same on the Kindle Fire as a 3MB image, but could be transmitted more quickly). But to do this Amazon’s servers have to store copies of files obtained from other websites, including images (as explicitly stated at 3:07 to 3:26) and other files which, of course, are covered by copyright. At 3:54, it’s explained that if Amazon’s computing cloud sees you looking at the New York Times home page, and it predicts, based on other user statistics, that you are somewhat likely to next click on some NY Times subpage link, then the Amazon servers will go ahead and download that next link, and cache it, in case you do click on it next, so that it can serve it up more quickly. Now this makes sense technically, but what it really means is Amazon’s servers are making copies of other people’s copyright-protected content: images, files, NYTimes web pages, and serving them up to Kindle Fire users as if the Amazon computer cloud servers are the host of those images. It is a bit like if Amazon ran a site called NYTimes2.com, and had its servers constantly copying content from NYtimes.com and duplicating it on NYTimes2.com, and serving up the content on NYTimes2.com (which was copied from NYTimes.com) to browsers.
Of course, as he notes (and as the people in the video note), this makes tremendous technological sense. It makes for a much better experience. But copyright can and often is used to stop innovations that make tremendous technological sense, because they can upset legacy business models. Of course, one could argue that what Amazon is doing here is no different than what Google does with it's cache -- but that might not stop a potential legal fight, unfortunately.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    greap, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 1:57pm

    What?!?!

    This is just a caching proxy, you know the same kind that has been in use for 20 years and the legal issues were dealt with back then.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:03pm

      Re: What?!?!

      You are correct, it is only a caching proxy. However, in modifying the output (adjusting image sizes or otherwise playing with the page content) they may find themselves running into trouble.

      But just caching the content isn't exactly going to trigger any lawsuits, sorry Mike.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:18pm

        Re: Re: What?!?!

        Caching = copying from a copyright perspective.

        Now, copying is not always infringement, but it might be enough grounds for some overzealous plaintiff to bring a suit.

        I suspect any suit would ultimately find most of what Amazon is doing here to be noninfringing (a la the Perfect 10 lawsuits regarding what Google does), but that doesn't mean the lawsuits won't come.

         

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        PaulT (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:18pm

        Re: Re: What?!?!

        I thought the same about mp3.com's lockers and Google's caching as well...

        The question is really how far the inevitable lawsuit is likely to go. I'd hope not far, but even stupid lawsuits seem to have a habit of going on for years and having a chilling effect on similar ideas.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:39pm

          Re: Re: Re: What?!?!

          Actually, I think it would be great for a company with the resources of Amazon to take a case like this up to an appellate court. That way everyone (at the very least everyone in that circuit) gets clarity as to what's allowed.

           

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        Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:56pm

        Re: Re: What?!?!

        What do you think people did to Google?

         

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        DannyB (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 3:01pm

        Re: Re: What?!?!

        So Caching is only copyright infringement when the dinosaurs want it to be copyright infringement.

        So imagine this: what if Amazon's system caches something that is in fact infringing copyright? If someone out of easy reach of jurisdiction has a web page with copyright infringing content, and Amazon caches it in the US, who is going to get sued?

        I suspect Mike is right. This is a copyright lawsuit waiting to happen. Why? Because it is the default first action of pro-copyright people. Sue first. Don't bother asking questions or ever thinking about anything later.

         

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          Chosen Reject (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 3:18pm

          Re: Re: Re: What?!?!

          I'm torn on the money question. Amazon has a lot more money so winning a judgement against them means you'll actually get paid (because let's be honest, if the RIAA does get what it wants from Jammie Thomas, she'll never be able to pay them). At the same time, Amazon has a lot more money and is going to be much more willing to fight this than some poor schmoe.

           

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      crade (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 3:24pm

      Re: What?!?!

      caching has been around forever, but the legal issues were never dealth with, they were just ignored because it was so useful and the legal environment at that time wasn't as prone to criminalizing great useful things for stupid reasons as it is now.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:13pm

    What worries me...

    Is how does it deal with encrypted content?

    They're using a custom closed-source browser - all of the traffic is flowing through their servers, so they can "optimize" it.

    What about encrypted sessions? Is it safe to visit my bank's website with this? How do they guarantee to me that they won't be compromising my accounts?

     

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      A Dan (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:18pm

      Re: What worries me...

      I doubt they cache https sessions.

       

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      techinabox (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:43pm

      Re: What worries me...

      They will be operating as an SSL proxy. Your connection to them is encrypted and then their connection to your bank would be encrypted. This sounds horrible at first until you realize that you can disable the silk connection and that Amazon probably already has your debit/credit card numbers.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:14pm

    I also have to laugh and toss one word out into the discussion:


    Middlemen.

     

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    Ven, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:16pm

    One browser or two?

    It could be argued that Amazon's Silk browser is just a unusual multiprocess model that runs the render half of the browser on a tablet and the network and caching half on a cloud server.

    All the controversial features described are available in current desktop browsers. Amazon can also hide behind the exceptions written into copyright law for transition and service providers.

     

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      DannyB (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 3:04pm

      Re: One browser or two?

      You are right from a technology point of view.

      But technical qualifications are not enough.

      You are insufficiently brain damaged to clearly see this from a pro-copyright point of view. If someone out of easy reach of US jurisdiction has a web page with copyright infringing content, and Amazon caches it on servers in the US, guess who is going to get sued?

       

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    Michael Long (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:20pm

    Near as I can tell, plenty of ISPs do pretty the same thing: cache frequently requested information in servers close to the user, minimizing traffic on the backbone and reducing lag.

    AOL, as I recall, did EXACTLY the same thing so that its users had a better experience.

    And many dialup providers link Earthlink had software that would compress responses in order to provide a "faster" service.

    In fact, I'd be more worried about patent issues in the later regard that copyright problems...

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 3:08pm

      Re:

      You do know that there were lawsuits that cost millions and took years to end?

      This is just a new shot at it again, that the content owners will try to exploit to change the precedents, set in other cases since the climate have changed.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:35pm

    Questions I have about silk

    1) Will Amazon perform Protect-IP style dns blocking of silk requests without court orders? (Their eagerness to help Senator Lieberman shut down wikileaks makes me wonder)

    2) Can silk be used to bypass geographic restrictions (e.g. can Europeans obtain US-only content with silk, or vice-versa depending on where the amazon cloud servers are?)

    3) Will using silk make it more difficult to track down copyright infringers (Silk's Terms of Service indicate that they will "generally"[?] only store IP/MAC addresses for 30 days)?

     

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    Some Other Guy (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 2:50pm

    Opera Mini does the 'adjusting the content to fit the device' thing too. You'd think that Opera would've been sued for this if it was problematic in any way. Of course, Opera is a lot poorer than Amazon, so they're a less tempting target for a troll seeking to beat the money out of them with a lawyer-club.

    (If Opera _has_ been sued for this, no doubt some knowledgeable person will link to it for us.)

     

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    Scote, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 3:27pm

    Does Silk break HTTPS????

    How does Silk work with HTTPS encrypted sessions? If Amazon is pre-rendering everything in the cloud then it will have to cheat and un-encrypt the client side of HTTPS sessions on their servers then ship it wirelessly to your tablet. Or they won't be able to pre-render *anything* in an HTTPS session.

    Pre-rendering HTTPS sessions in the cloud would be a massive security problem, privacy issue (HTTPS protects your privacy as well as providing secure financial transactions) and is a potential defacto fraud since HTTPS is supposed to be secure between the secure webserver (eg. your bank) and your web client (your browser on your computer) to insure that the information is secure the whole way along. If amazon pre-renders HTTPS then it would essentially be doing a huge equivalent of a man in the middle attack.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 3:34pm

      Re: Does Silk break HTTPS????

      Obviously not everything is pre-rendered. For instance, if it guesses incorrectly what you will click on next.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 3:29pm

    Some may sue, but it's easily fair use. No need for the FUD, Mike.

     

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      Jeff Rife, Sep 30th, 2011 @ 11:40am

      Re:

      After reading Techdirt for more than a couple of days, the one thing that everyone should have figured out is that there is no such thing as "obviously" or "easily fair use"—at least not as far as big media companies are concerned.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 3:47pm

    If google wants to be in business 5 years from now, they better do the same thing with chrome. Being able to track and apply machine learning using the browsing habits of a huge number of people, the few snippets of javascript google and tracking cookies depends on of adsense and compiling search results just won't be enough anymore.

    Being tech dirt I would think that we would be talking about the privacy concerns not weather or not it will somehow cause an infringement lawsuit.

    Besides all that I love the idea. It solves the problem I've been thinking about of how we want everything to sparkle and depend more and more on JS and jQuery to build UI's. How do we do this without bogging down the client device with code to execute and scripts to download.

    I would take this a step further and treat your browser just like a remote desktop session where your just sending mouse and keyboard input to the cloud and getting back and image of the response.

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 6:09pm

    Mike

    Let me guess you are short on Amazon ;) ... Every single search engine does the same thing. To start this a legal fight and win, will force people to look at copyright, lets hope that the legacy industries win this if it becomes a legal suit. Imagine the outcry if google, bing or any other "legal" search engine were to become illegal.

     

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    ShellMG, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 7:54pm

    As someone who's bandwidth-challenged and not as tech-savvy as many here, does this process used by Amazon shave kb off your downloads? When you're living with a strangulating cap -- as many of we ruralites are -- this could make a huge difference. Speed is nice but when you're overcharged by the byte, every little bit helps.

     

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      btrussell (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 5:39am

      Re:

      Use Firefox with Adblockplus and noscript add-ons.

      Also, in preferences > content tab, check - block pop-ups, un-check - load images automatically.

       

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    whiteyonenh, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 8:04pm

    Ok... and this is something that's been going on with the Opera browser's "Turbo" feature, and Opera Mini, Skyfire for how long? I seriously see this as a non-issue. Anyone remember the Accelerated dialup? Congrats on rehashing this shit over and over, and claiming "is this copyright infringement". If anything there's prior applications that already do this, and it shouldn't be an issue at all whatsoever.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 12:51am

      Re:

      "this is something that's been going on with the Opera browser's "Turbo" feature, and Opera Mini, Skyfire for how long"

      Those companies don't have deep pockets. As with the lawsuits against Google (did Perfect 10 ever stop suing them about their caches?), having prior art is hardly a stopping point.

      "claiming "is this copyright infringement""

      Re-read the headline. It's not asking that. It's asking "is this a copyright infringement lawsuit". Having actual infringement has never been a prerequisite for these people to sue.

      "it shouldn't be an issue at all whatsoever"

      That doesn't mean they won't sue.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2011 @ 7:50am

    When I'm viewing my shopping cart web page on Amazon, I wonder which link Silk will predict I'm going to press next and therefore pre-cache with a GET request: "Buy Now" or "Cancel Order"?

    Or when I'm viewing my messages on Gmail: "Archive", "Delete", etc.? Or "Send Flirt" from match.com.

    It seems like some links are a bit dangerous to pre-cache. How does Silk know which links are safe to traverse, and which aren't?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2011 @ 7:50am

    When I'm viewing my shopping cart web page on Amazon, I wonder which link Silk will predict I'm going to press next and therefore pre-cache with a GET request: "Buy Now" or "Cancel Order"?

    Or when I'm viewing my messages on Gmail: "Archive", "Delete", etc.? Or "Send Flirt" from match.com.

    It seems like some links are a bit dangerous to pre-cache. How does Silk know which links are safe to traverse, and which aren't?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2011 @ 9:51am

    I can't wait to hear the uproar when, a few years from now, Amazon quietly drops support for this program and leaves a bunch of people with no net access, because the "middleman" no longer wants to do the work for free.

    It also brings up the most important point: If amazon is doing all of this "for free", you have to wonder what value they are extracting. I can't help but think there is no free lunch here, and users and making themselves beholden to another gatekeeper (who is keeping tabs on their activities and maybe inserting ads into your web pages).

     

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    Michael Robertson (profile), Oct 3rd, 2011 @ 3:45pm

    This *IS* covered by the law - DMCA 512A

    The DMCA provides immunity to caching servers. See 512 B (System Caching) which reads in part:

    A service provider shall not be liable for monetary relief, or, except as provided in subsection (j), for injunctive or other equitable relief, for infringement of copyright by reason of the intermediate and temporary storage of material on a system or network controlled or operated by or for the service provider in a case in which

     

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