Cyberlocker Responds To MPAA Lawsuit Which Tries To Give Hollywood A Veto On Tech It Doesn't Like

from the it-shouldn't-be dept

Ever since the Supreme Court's Grokster decision, in which it made up a non-legislative "inducement" standard for copyright infringement (a standard, it should be noted, that Congress had a chance to put into law, but declined), the entertainment industry has tried to expand what "inducement" actually means. In the entertainment industry's general definition, it appears to mean "anything we don't like" or "anything that challenges our existing legacy business models." Case in point: cyberlockers. The MPAA has been screaming about "cyberlockers" as this new horrible piracy scheme for a couple years now, ignoring (of course) that cyberlockers serve important and useful legitimate functions in allowing people to share large legal digital files. Like many people, I've used cyberlockers to share PowerPoint presentations, photos and videos I've taken. They're incredibly useful and have significant non-infringing purposes.

However, obviously, those tools can (and perhaps frequently are) used for infringement as well. But, we already have laws to deal with that. The DMCA's notice-and-takedown provision allows copyright holders to alert service providers, who then need to takedown the content. A couple months ago, however, the MPAA went after Hotfile, one of the larger cyberlockers out there, with what struck me as a surprisingly weak case. It was as if whoever wrote the filing didn't quite understand how cyberlockers work, made a bunch of (mostly really bad) assumptions, and then twisted the facts in the most ridiculous possible way to make a case that Hotfile "induces" infringement.

For example, the MPAA claimed that because Hotfile charges fees for premium service, that's a sign of inducement. But that makes no sense. Plenty of online services charge for premium accounts, and since there are real marginal costs here, it makes basic economic sense for cyberlockers to charge premium users for additional services. That has nothing to do with infringement. Separately, the MPAA tries to spin the fact that Hotfile encourages people to use it to share widely, claiming that no legitimate "backup" service would do that. But, the MPAA is (incorrectly) assuming that Hotfile is a backup service. It's not. It's a tool for sharing digital files. None of that adds up to inducement.

The Supreme Court tried to dance around the earlier Betamax ruling, in which it allowed the VCR to exist because it had "substantial non-infringing uses," by creating a specific "standard" for inducement, which (as standards go) is pretty vague:
"[O]ne who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties . . . [but] mere knowledge of infringing potential or of actual infringing uses would not be enough here to subject a distributor to liability. Nor would ordinary acts incident to product distribution, such as offering customers technical support or product updates, support liability in themselves. The inducement rule, instead, premises liability on purposeful, culpable expression and conduct . . . ."
Basically, the Supreme Court says that you have to do something to specifically purposely encourage infringement. Just because your service is used for infringement, that doesn't cut it. Grokster and others lost because there were signs that they advertised or marketed their services specifically for infringement. In the Hotfile case, the MPAA didn't seem to be able to show that at all.

So it's not surprising that Hotfile is fighting back pretty hard on the lawsuit, pointing out that (1) it meets the Betamax standard of significant non-infringing uses, but (2) doesn't come anywhere near the inducement standard of purposefully inducing infringement. The company notes that it promptly responds to DMCA notices and is quick to take down content, once made aware that it's infringing. It notes that providing a legitimate data storage business is not against the law, and it doesn't appreciate the MPAA's insinuations. It goes through the specifics of the Grokster ruling, which clearly don't apply to Hotfile. In fact, they note that one of the reasons Grokster ran into trouble was because it didn't receive revenue directly from users -- and now the MPAA is trying to use the exact opposite argument (that Hotfile does get money from users) to argue it's the same as Grokster?

Similarly, it points out how the fact that Grokster, Isohunt, Limewire and others have had a search function has been one of the key points used against those services to "prove" inducement. The courts have reasoned that since they allow searches for any file, they're "inducing" infringement. Yet, with Hotfile, there's no search. That should settle the issue... but this is the MPAA we're talking about, and so they twist the lack of a search engine into a charge that Hotfile "concealed" the content its users uploaded.

Sued if you do. Sued if you don't.

This seems like a pretty strong filing in response to a clear attempt by the MPAA to twist and extend "inducement" theory way beyond what was intended by the Supreme Court. Hopefully the courts recognize this, but you never know when it comes to these kinds of cases. As Professor Eric Goldman is fond of pointing out, there's regular copyright law, and then there's file sharing copyright law, in which the judges creatively reintepret the law to make activities they don't like illegal, rather than following the actual law.

Either way, this case could become important in determining the boundaries of what really is "inducement." If the MPAA gets its way, it will effectively erase the Supreme Court's Betamax ruling, because it will mean that even if you have substantial non-infringing uses, if there are a lot of people using it for infringement, even if you did not push them to use your service for that particular reason, you automatically become liable. This is a complete fabrication by the MPAA who appears to effectively want to overturn the Betamax ruling here by suggesting that if enough people are infringing, you're automatically guilty of inducement, because any action you do (have a search engine? yes! don't have a search engine? yes!) is interpreted as inducement.

Filed Under: copyright, cyberlockers, inducement, infringement
Companies: hotfile, mpaa


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  1. icon
    Chosen Reject (profile), 7 Apr 2011 @ 9:28pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    My guess would be that the US government is getting more and more ridiculous when it comes to copyright infringement enforcement that it's just easier to bypass them altogether. Just yesterday the House Hearing started to get dangerously close to saying Google should be liable for copyright infringement simply because they haven't stopped it yet. One of them (Debbie Wasserman-Schultz) even said
    "You helped overthrow the head of an entire country in a weekend. To suggest that this is too difficult for you to accomplish demonstrates I think more an expression of a lack of will."
    In an environment like that, I wouldn't want to start a company in the US either.

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