Apparently Veoh Isn't Dead Enough For Universal Music; Asks For Rehearing Of Its Bogus Copyright Lawsuit
from the but,-of-course dept
One of the key examples of what happens when you have bad, overly draconian copyright laws that burden companies falsely accused of infringement is Veoh. We’ve talked about them a bunch in the past, but Dmitry Shapiro, who had been CEO of the company, has written up a great (though depressing) first-hand explanation of how bad copyright law kills good companies. He talks about having the vision for an online video service (which he came up with before YouTube existed, though both happened at about the same time), how he built up the product, raised a bunch of money (including from former Disney CEO Michael Eisner), and put together a really good product. On top of that, to help the big entertainment companies feel comfortable, they installed audio filtering technologies — even though such things are not (yet) required by law. And yet, the company was still sued by Universal Music, who insisted that Veoh was a “pirate site.”
Of course, as we’ve noted, Veoh has won every bit of their lawsuits. The latest ruling came in December, where an appeals court, once again, said that Veoh was perfectly legal. It complied with the DMCA and actually went above and beyond what the law required (such as by using those filters). Of course, Veoh is also dead. The costs of the lawsuit really were too much for a young company struggling to build a good product and compete in the marketplace.
As you can imagine the lawsuit dramatically impacted our ability to operate the company. The financial drain of millions of dollars going to litigation took away our power to compete, countless hours of executive’s time was spent in dealing with various responsibilities of litigation, and employee morale was deeply impacted with a constant threat of shutdown. Trying to convince new employees to join the company in spite of this was extremely challenging. To make sure that our money supply was cut off, in an unprecedented move, UMG sued not only the company, but our investors (Michael Eisner, Art Bilger, and Spark Capital) personally. This move raised lot of eyebrows in the legal community, and at one point was thrown out by a judge, only to continue to be appealed and litigated by UMG. This completely choked off all of our financial oxygen, as trying to convince investors to invest with the threat of them personally being sued is insurmountable.
Even after winning the initial lawsuit, UMG just piled on the appeals, and it made it impossible for the company to survive:
With the appeal looming, financing continued to be choked off for us, and in April 2010 we had to sell the company in a fire sale to a small startup. The company that we had built, that was once valued at over $130 Million was gone. Along with it went the livelihoods of over 120 people and their families, $70 million of money entrusted to us by investors, and a big part of me. I had sacrificed so much to live the life of an entrepreneur. My marriage couldn’t stand the strain of this lifestyle and ended in 2009, and while all of this was going on, my father was dying. Instead of spending time with him at his bedside, I was sitting in depositions with lawyers, and stressing over the lawsuit. He died July 13 2009, two months before we won the original judgement on the lawsuit. He would have been proud of me for following through with the fight. I felt so beaten down after this experience, that I couldn’t imagine going back to being an entrepreneur. I was disenchanted, disgusted by the system that would allow these kinds of behaviors to go on, and it is not until recently that I have been able to come up to bat again.
Shapiro posted this to explain why he’s against SOPA/PIPA, but the amazing thing is that the lawsuit is still going on. Even after that ruling in December that totally eviscerated UMG’s arguments and made it abundantly clear that Veoh had been a perfectly legal operation destroyed by a bogus lawsuit, UMG is trying again. Embedded below is the petition that UMG recently filed in the appeals court, asking for an en banc rehearing (appeals courts usually hear cases with a three-judge panel, but parties can later ask for a rehearing with all of the judges in the court — which is an en banc rehearing).
I’m not going to go through the filing in detail. It’s more of the same from UMG. Basically, UMG wants to pretend that the DMCA requires certain actions that it clearly does not. Every judge so far has told UMG this, but it won’t give up. And, more importantly, it won’t give up even though Veoh is long since dead. Considering that UMG and the rest of the legacy recording business keep complaining that they’re not making any money any more, the fact that they’re choosing to keep suing a company they already killed years ago really says something, doesn’t it?
The truth is that UMG is continuing the lawsuit for one reason: because it’s hoping and praying that some court will magically believe UMG’s made up interpretation of copyright law. If that happens, it will make it much easier for UMG to kill other legit sites that it doesn’t like. It will also allow UMG to pretend that Veoh was a “rogue” site that needed to be killed, rather than a successful legitimate business that was killed via a bogus lawsuit.