by Mike Masnick
Fri, Apr 22nd 2011 5:52am
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Apr 20th 2011 3:31am
from the good-point dept
First, the company makes the distinction between "licensed" and "legal":
First, there is a distinction between legal and licensed. Laws come from Congress. Licenses come from businesses. Grooveshark is completely legal because we comply with the laws passed by Congress, but we are not licensed by every label (yet). We are a technology company, and we operate within the boundaries of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA). Some would have you believe that those of us who use the DMCA to innovate are inherently infringers and that claiming Safe Harbor under the DMCA is as good as admitting guilt. Not so.While I agree with the importance of the DMCA's safe harbors, and the idea that they are important to encourage innovation, Grooveshark is being a little misleading in the whole licensed/legal arena. It really should go into more detail. The way Grooveshark operates, is that (like YouTube), users upload content, which others can then stream. Grooveshark works to abide by the DMCA to discourage and takedown infringing material -- and notes that it has taken down 1.76 million tracks and suspended 22,274 users who abused the system. As it notes, those are "not the characteristics of a company 'dedicated to copyright infringement.'" It also pays performance rights organizations for the streaming content.
The DMCA's Safe Harbor component encourages technology companies to innovate in hopes that they will eventually solve some of the problems that are plaguing content producers today. The Safe Harbor provision reads like it was written specifically for YouTube and Grooveshark, and its necessity continues to be illustrated every day. If it weren't for this notion, many of the products and services that are now taking a bite out of piracy would never have been born.
The real issue is whether or not the users have the rights to upload the works. That's where the licensing aspect comes in. Grooveshark has been trying for a while now to get record labels to agree to effectively offer a blanket license to its users, so that they can upload those songs, and the labels can then make some money off of the usage as well. In some ways, it's like YouTube's ContentID system, in helping labels monetize their music that users are hoping to share. Both EMI and Universal Music have sued Grooveshark, with EMI dismissing the case after agreeing to a license. Universal Music is still fighting the lawsuit.
So, effectively, the way Grooveshark is structured today is that its users might infringe on copyrights, and the company keeps seeking licenses that would make those uses authorized. The somewhat open legal question is whether or not Grooveshark itself is liable as well. It claims that it follows the DMCA safe harbors and is protected (and, for that reason, I'm sure is very, very, very interested in the eventual outcome of the YouTube/Viacom lawsuit concerning the overall contours of the DMCA safe harbors). The labels, I'm sure, claim that Grooveshark is "inducing" infringement through its overall design.
Not surprisingly, I think Grooveshark presents an interesting legal situation, which should be legal under the DMCA. Unfortunately, the courts often get a little wacky when it comes to interpreting the law in these situations. If YouTube continues to prevail over Viacom, Grooveshark is in a much stronger legal position. If the appeals court reverses, however, it may have more trouble. Of course, given all this, it is somewhat amusing that Google would dump Grooveshark, suggesting a violation of its terms of service. If Google is arguing that YouTube is legal, you would think it would recognize that Grooveshark relies on the very same line of legal logic.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 18th 2011 1:54pm
from the seriously-now? dept
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Mar 18th 2011 4:11am
from the pushing-the-boundaries dept
Of course, I imagine the studios will go ballistic (and legalistic) quickly on this one, but it's difficult to argue with the basic premise. After all, if both time-shifting and place-shifting are legal, then what wrong is being done here? Why should it require a separate streaming license? No matter how you think about it, the situation demonstrates that today's copyright laws are confused. After all, if it's perfectly legal for you to set up a DVD player in your own house, and then watch that remotely (e.g., via a Slingbox), why should it not be legal to have a company host the DVD player, and you just watch from home? There's no good reason why the two should be treated differently.
But, at the same time, Enigmax at TorrentFreak properly points out that from a technological perspective, this whole thing is stupid. It's purposely downgrading what the technology allows:
So while the system to get round the usual studio imposed release window nonsense is quite clever, it is also ridiculously old fashioned. It's 2011 and we’re relying on physical DVDs and DVD players? Getting messages that someone else has rented the movie needed already?In other words, if we can agree that the location of the DVD player is meaningless if you're watching the movie at home, can't we also agree that the physical medium on which the content is stored is meaningless? Is it really that different if you're sitting in your house watching a remote DVD of the movie... or content streaming from a remote hard drive? It seems to matter, deeply, to those in Hollywood, but from a technology standpoint, it seems completely nonsensical.
These problems were largely solved a decade ago and any torrent, streaming, or decent file-hosting site today can provide a better service than this in the blink of an eye.
Except Hollywood won't let them, legally at least.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Feb 23rd 2011 4:23am
from the thought-they'd-let-it-drop dept
However, in this one case, the government accidentally sent the proof to some lawyers, but then tried to pretend that the document was still "secret" and claimed "national security" reasons for why the proof could not be shown in court. The whole thing was yet another silly game of coverup. So it was big news last March when the government lost the case.
However, soon after that ruling, people started pointing out that the government might not appeal the case, because it could just "accept" the ruling, pay whatever fines, and then just go on doing what it was doing, since no one else could sue and there was nothing else to stop them. This thinking was given even more weight when the judge finally announced the awards to those who were spied on, and it amounted to pocket change.
So consider us surprised that the federal government has indicated it plans to appeal the ruling. It's entirely possible that it's only appealing on very specific and narrow grounds, but it does seem like an odd decision, and it makes me wonder if the government might not regret it if it ends up losing the appeal, and getting a more serious punishment.
Wed, Feb 16th 2011 11:15am
from the once-more,-with-feeling dept
These seizures are the very definition of prior restraint.
The activities that these sites are doing has never been considered criminal infringement. Remember that "evidence of reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work, by itself, shall not be sufficient to establish willful infringement of a copyright." (17 U.S.C. 506(a)(2)) The state has not met their burden of showing that criminal activity occurred at all.
Moreover, it's pretty hard to claim "willful infringement" when a site has been declared completely legal under its own country's laws -- as is the case with Rojadirecta. If it's infringing, it's at most "innocent infringement," which is in no way a criminal act.
Furthermore, none of these sites are "primary" infringers. To be criminal, they must be considered an accomplice, and that requires much, much more proof than "contributory" or "vicarious" infringement does in tort cases. You must share the primary's actus reus and mens rea -- in layman's terms, you had to actively, intentionally, and directly participate, and moreover you had to know the act was criminal. It's amazingly obvious that this doesn't apply to many of these websites.
Under 17 U.S.C. 512's "safe harbors" provisions, if the sites followed the rules laid out therein, they are not liable for infringement at all, and the only relief available is laid out in 512(j). Nothing in 17 U.S.C. 506 takes those safe harbors away. Even if you wrongly believe it did, obeying the law would (once again) make you an "innocent infringer" at most, thus ineligible for criminal infringement under 506. Yet there was not even an attempt to show that the sites did not follow those rules. And apparently many did.
These seizures were also done ex parte, meaning that the defendants were not given prior notice, and were not given a chance to contest the seizures in a pre-seizure hearing. Nor, for that matter, were they given that chance after the seizures occured.
Fort Wayne Books v. Indiana makes it very clear that an ex parte seizure of potentially protected speech, with the intent to take material out of circulation, is prior restraint:
While a single copy of a book or film may be seized and retained for evidentiary purposes based on a finding of probable cause, books or films may not be taken out of circulation completely until there has been a determination of obscenity after an adversary hearing. The risk of prior restraint, which is the underlying basis for the special Fourth Amendment protection accorded searches for and seizures of First Amendment materials, renders invalid the pretrial seizure here. Even assuming that petitioner's bookstore and its contents are forfeitable when it is proved that they were used in, or derived from, a pattern of violations of the state obscenity laws, the seizure was unconstitutional. Probable cause to believe that there are valid grounds for seizure is insufficient to interrupt the sale of presumptively protected books and films.
Note that even taking the offending material itself out of circulation is prior restraint. These seizures went beyond that, and attempted to take entire websites out of circulation, non-infringing speech and all.
Some rebut with Heller v. New York, but nothing in Heller contradicts Fort Wayne:
A copy of the film was temporarily detained in order to preserve it as evidence. There has been no showing that the seizure of a copy of the film precluded its continued exhibition. Nor, in this case, did temporary restraint in itself "become a form of censorship," even making the doubtful assumption that no other copies of the film existed. [Emphasis in original.]
In other words, Heller only applies when you seize a copy of the work, you do it to preserve it as evidence, and it does not prevent public access to the work itself.
Moreover, Heller quotes United States v. Thirty-seven Photographs, which lays out three requirements for ex parte seizures:
(1) there must be assurance, 'by statute or authoritative judicial construction, that the censor will, within a specified brief period, either issue a license or go to court to restrain showing the film'; (2) '[a]ny restraint imposed in advance of a final judicial determination on the merits must similarly be limited to preservation of the status quo for the shortest fixed period compatible with sound judicial resolution'; and (3) 'the procedure must also assure a prompt final judicial decision' to minimize the impact of possibly erroneous administrative action. [Emphasis mine.]
These seizures fail every single one of those requirements. Those requirements were put in place "so that administrative delay does not in itself become a form of censorship." This is exactly what is happening here. Forfeiture proceedings for the first round of seizures were only initiated six months after the seizures occurred. The majority of sites still have not had a chance to contest them, and some have only recently been contacted by the government, months after the domains were seized.
Others may rebut with Arcara v. Cloud Books, in which an adult bookstore was closed down because of prostitution occuring on its premises. The usual claim is that "the First Amendment is no shield against criminal activity." But Arcara was only constitutional because "the sexual activity carried on in this case manifests absolutely no element of protected expression." Furthermore, "We have also applied First Amendment scrutiny to some statutes which, although directed at activity with no expressive component, impose a disproportionate burden upon those engaged in protected First Amendment activities."
Copyright infringement does, in fact, have "an element of protected expression" -- that is, a First Amendment defense can be raised (it need not be raised successfully). For that reason alone, Arcara does not apply. But even if the activity was not itself protected, the mere fact that it imposes a "disproportionate burden" upon free expression, disqualifies it from Arcara exemptions. Arcara absolutely, positively does not apply to these seizures.
In case you're wondering -- no, obscenity is not any more "presumptively protected" than copyright infringement is. (Hint: child pornography is a subset of "obscenity.") The same seizure rules (18 U.S.C. 46) apply to both; First Amendment challenges can be raised to both; obscenity, unlike infringement, is always a criminal offense; and the punishment for obscenity is about the same as for criminal infringement. (It's all in 18 U.S.C. 71.)
It's also a dodge to claim that domain names are not "presumptively protected speech." First of all, that's not true. Name.Space v. Network Solutions ruled that general top-level domains (just the .com, .net, etc parts) are not protected, solely because they cannot possibly be expressive. When the domain name can possibly be expressive -- such as when it includes the full creative URL -- it is presumptively protected speech, and First Amendment concerns apply. (See: every single "sucks site" case, and the one about Glenn Beck raping and murdering a young girl in 1990.)
But it's even more of a dodge because the domain names are not even allegedly infringing. They were seized solely to prevent the public from accessing the websites themselves. So the TLDs' status as "protected" is completely immaterial; it only matters whether the websites themselves are possibly protected expression.
And, of course, they are. The majority of the speech on some sites (forums, blog posts, comments, etc) is absolutely, 100% protected speech.
Now, about those seizure laws. 17 U.S.C. 506(b) references 18 U.S.C. 2323, which allows the seizing of any "article, the making or trafficking of which" is criminal infringement. Compare this with the ennumerated articles that can be impounded from 17 U.S.C. 503: "all copies or phonorecords," "all plates, molds, matrices, masters, tapes, film negatives, or other articles," and "records documenting the manufacture, sale, or receipt." These laws were clearly to be used for counterfeit goods, not file sharing.
According to 18 U.S.C. 2323(a)(2), the actual procedures for criminal seizure are in 18 U.S.C. 46. There are three sections dealing with civil forfeiture, none of which seem particularly appropriate. It seems that judicial forfeiture is covered exclusively in 18 U.S.C. 985. 985(d) states:ates:
Real property may be seized prior to the entry of an order of forfeiture if--
(A) the Government notifies the court that it intends to seize the property before trial; and
(B) the court--
(i) issues a notice of application for warrant, causes the notice to be served on the property owner and posted on the property, and conducts a hearing in which the property owner has a meaningful opportunity to be heard; or
(ii) makes an ex parte determination that there is probable cause for the forfeiture and that there are exigent circumstances that permit the Government to seize the property without prior notice and an opportunity for the property owner to be heard.
(2) For purposes of paragraph (1)(B)(ii), to establish exigent circumstances, the Government shall show that less restrictive measures such as a lis pendens, restraining order, or bond would not suffice to protect the Government's interests in preventing the sale, destruction, or continued unlawful use of the real property. [Emphasis mine.]
In other words, even with counterfeit goods, you're supposed to allow an adversarial hearing before seizing anything. An ex parte seizure order is the "nuclear option," to be used only when other methods are insufficient. The affidavits claim that these were indeed "exigent circumstances," but that claim is completely laughable on its face -- especially since the sites were operational for years at the same domain name, without risk of "destruction" or "sale," and the seizures did not preserve (or even help gather) any evidence whatsoever. And no, "continued unlawful use" is not an "exigent circumstance" when that "use" involves potentially protected expression, or, for that matter, when the use is not necessarily unlawful in the first place.
...Now, I'm not a lawyer, and I'm only repeating what I've been able to dig up. You can possibly disagree with some of the above. But in order for these seizures to be legal, you have to disagree with all of it. I'm sure some here will try (and many more will just call me a "freetard" or "pro-piracy" or "LOL!" at me). But no matter how you slice it, the legality of these seizures is not obvious. It's not even likely.
The more I read the law, the more convinced I become that the seizures were a repulsive abuse of power. ICE did this deliberately to route around safe harbors and the First Amendment. They had no intent of filing criminal charges and were hoping the domain owners would be scared into silence. It is prior restraint, and it is censorship, plain and simple.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Nov 17th 2010 3:27pm
from the trust-us... dept
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Sep 23rd 2010 8:25am
from the good-for-them dept
While no system is perfect, even the AGs acknowledge Backpage.com's good-faith cooperation with law enforcement.They also note: "Censorship will not create public safety nor will it rid the world of exploitation."
In the last two years, Backpage.com users have posted 58 million ads and only 6 million in the adult services section. Federal and state authorities have called on Backpage.com to testify in just five cases involving alleged abuse of underage persons. Backpage.com continues to respond to valid subpoenas from law enforcement officials whose job it is to investigate, apprehend and prosecute criminals who wrongfully post illegal ads and victimize others.
Backpage.com is disappointed that the AGs have determined to shift blame from criminal predators to a legal business operator in an apparent attempt to capitalize on political opportunity during the election season.
Of course, rather than recognizing any of this and maybe backing down, Connecticut Attorney General (and Senate candidate) Richard Blumenthal responded in typically misleading fashion:
"I am deeply disappointed by this unfortunate and unfounded resistance to taking common-sense steps toward protecting women and children. I am hopeful that the company will reconsider its resistance and do the right thing. I will consult with my fellow attorneys general and consider possible next steps."Notice that he does not respond to any of the actual points raised. He does not respond to the fact that shutting down these services won't do anything to help protect women and children and will almost certainly make the problem worse. He just pretends that the world is the exact opposite of what it is. It's as if Richard Blumenthal thinks that everyone out there is incredibly dumb and believes the world works as he says it does, rather than how it actually works.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Sep 15th 2010 12:46am
from the blog-aggregator? dept
However, that's not going to stop ongoing legal actions from those publishers against the aggregators they believe are a problem. One reason for this is that the specific legal situation at times can be a bit vague, as internet aggregators are quite different than past businesses. If you're interested in this subject, you should absolutely read Kimberly Isbell's very thorough look at the legal issues related to online aggregators. She very carefully breaks out the different types of aggregators (though, I'm a bit surprised that people seriously consider commentary blogs to be "aggregators") as well as the specific legal issues facing each of the different aggregators. The problem, which becomes clear, is that the law is not anywhere close to settled on the key issues, and leave an awful lot of key questions up to the interpretation of whatever judge gets the cases in question. We've discussed in the past the idea that it's often possible to take the "fair use" factors and interpret them in either direction (something is or is not fair use), and the same may be true with "hot news" in some cases as well. That's a problem, and makes both concepts somewhat useless and dangerous as well. If you have a law where the boundaries are incredibly vague, unclear, and up to the whims of a randomly selected judge, it leads to potentially damaging situations, where people avoid liability by not even trying to do certain things for fear of getting sued.
The concept of hot news is now being tested in a few different courts, so we can be hopeful that within a few years, perhaps, the courts will dump the concept entirely as a violation of the First Amendment (an analysis that hasn't been done yet), but with that question still up in the air, there's still a chance that a confused court could rule otherwise, creating a massively damaging situation for value added content services online.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Jan 22nd 2010 12:27pm
from the to-be-expected,-but... dept
"The alarming upshot of the court's decision is that so long as the government spies on all Americans, the courts have no power to review or halt such mass surveillance even when it is flatly illegal and unconstitutional," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston