MPAA Files Surprisingly Weak Billion Dollar Lawsuit Against Hotfile
from the you'd-think-there'd-be-a-bit-more-'there'-there dept
Hotfile, one of a number of cyberlockers out there, has been in the news increasingly lately, as various entertainment industry firms have been attacking it as one of the more popular cyberlockers. It appears that the MPAA and its whole content protection staff finally decided to go beyond complaining and actually sue Hotfile, asking (of course) for the maximum $150,000 in statutory damages for each infringing file it found on Hotfile.
The full lawsuit is embedded below, but what shocks me is how weak the case appears to be. Nearly the entire lawsuit is based on innuendo and insistence that perfectly reasonable practices couldn’t possibly have legitimate purposes. Hotfile acts as a cyberlocker — a service that has perfectly legitimate purposes for sharing large files. The MPAA tries to spin the fact that Hotfile charges subscription fees for premium services as nefarious, but that’s ridiculous. Hotfile — like other cyberlockers — is offering a service in which it pays for all of the bandwidth and storage costs upfront. Offering premium accounts for faster/better service is the very basis of the whole “freemium” model. It does not automatically imply, as the lawsuit suggests, that the company is inducing infringement. The MPAA also tries to make it sound nefarious that Hotfile encourages people to upload stuff that is downloaded more widely, but again that’s the whole point of the service. No one ever said that cyberlockers are for personal backup, but they’re designed to act as a service for distributing content. And, of course, encouraging people to use it in a way that gets more attention makes perfect sense, but does not automatically imply inducement to infringe.
The most ridiculous section, of course, is where the MPAA lists out all the things that Hotfile could do to reduce infringement — such as only letting people with accounts download. But the MPAA ignores how that would defeat the legitimate purpose of a service that allows anyone to distribute legal content quickly and easily. It also notes that Hotfile does not use any copyright filters, but there is no law requiring that it has to.
And that’s really the biggest problem with the lawsuit. Basically, the MPAA and the big studios it represents have decided they don’t like the fact that Hotfile isn’t protecting their business model and have decided that, therefore, it must be illegal. But that’s not how the law works. It’s entirely possible that a court will get blinded by the “but… but… piracy” aspect of this lawsuit. But looking through the details, I’m really shocked at the lack of any actual evidence for direct or contributory infringement. Instead, the crux of the entire lawsuit seems to be: (a) Hotfile makes money (b) people use Hotfile for infringement (c) Hotfile doesn’t do the things we want it to do to stop infringement. What the MPAA glosses over is the fact that it appears that Hotfile does, in fact, respond to DMCA takedowns and removes the files in question.
Frankly, I’m surprised. I knew that the entertainment industry would get around to filing lawsuits against cyberlockers, at some point, but I figured they’d have at least something more compelling than “but… but… piracy.”