Who is Responsible for Illegal P2P Downloading?

    May 5, 2011
    Josh Wolford

Don’t hate the player, don’t hate the game – hate the messenger?

In the latest round of who-can-we-sue, disgruntled “victims” of file sharing have taken aim at CBS’s CNET, specifically their software downloading site cnet.download.com.

Entrepreneur, FilmOn Founder and “eccentric billionaire” Alki David has filed a lawsuit against CNET alleging that they aided in copyright infringement by distributing P2P clients, most notably LimeWire but also Morpheus, iMesh and FrostWire.  Of course, LimeWire is already in its own mess.

Joining Mr. David as plaintiffs are a number of rappers and R&B artists that include members of 2 Live Crew, Pretty Ricky and Ying Yang Twins.  Fifteen plaintiffs are listed in all.

Whose fault is copyright infringement, if anybody’s? Is it the person who shares the files, the makers of the client, or in this case do you agree that CNET shares some responsibility? Tell us what you think.

Part one of the argument is that CNET is guilty of copyright infringement because they allowed users to download software that was used for copyright infringement.

The CBS defendants have been the main distributor of Lime Wire software and have promoted this and other P2P systems in order to directly profit from wide-scale copyright infringement…the CBS Defendants’ business model has been so dependent upon P2P and file sharing applications that entire pages of Download.com are designed specifically to list and categorize these software offerings.

So, blame Dick’s Sporting Goods for selling the hockey stick that was used to bludgeon someone to death with.  Got it.  Maybe we should sue Google for providing search results linking to CNET.  Actually, let’s just sue the internet.  Let’s sue Al Gore.

All ranting aside, the fact remains that while CNET was distributing LimeWire, is was a legal product. Limewire does not inherently have to be used for “copyright infringement.” File sharing does not necessarily equal copyright infringement.  Of course, P2P clients are used for the sharing of copyrighted files – nobody can deny that.

But I simply don’t know if we should sue the tackle shop for selling the bobber used to snag and keep the fish from the catch-and-release pond. Should we?

But I digress.  The second part of the argument is that along with hosting downloads, CNET also wrote reviews for products like LimeWire, thus instructing users specifically how to break the law.

The CBS Defendants have not just distributed and profited from software applications used to infringe copyrights on a massive scale.  They also furnished articles and other content that explained how users could use P2P software to infringe.

On cnet.com, Download.com and other website, the CBS Defendants offered videos, articles and other media that instructed how to use P2P software to locate pirated copies of copyrighted works and remove electronic protections placed on digital music file sin order to prevent infringement.

Or as I call it, the Anarchist Cookbook argument.

Part 54 of the lawsuit provides my personal favorite complaint, simply for its leave-no-stone-unturned approach:

As part of their review process, the CBS Defendants tested the software that they reviewed and, in the case of P2P clients, infringed copyrights to do so.  In a video that Download.com posted to its website, the CBS Defendants again reviewed LimeWire, but this time demonstrated how it worked to Download.com users.  The message of the video is clear: LimeWire is really great at infringing copyrights.

The lawsuit seeks damages as well as an injunction barring CNET from offering P2P client downloads.

Here’s a video of Alki David ranting against CBS, thanks to Ars Technica.  David says that CBS “finds itself publicly exposed as an irresponsible hypocrite, that has ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the creative community and created copyright infringement damages into the trillions of dollars.”

“Hypocrite” is most likely a reference to past legal dealings between CBS and David’s site FilmOn. Last fall CBS along with Fox, NBC and ABC won a restraining order against U.K. based FilmOn in the U.S. The networks argued that because FilmOn was rebroadcasting their content over the internet, they were in violation of copyright law. Although the merits of Alki David’s lawsuit against CBS deserve a fair debate, it is not a stretch to see this current lawsuit as some sort of retaliation for previous actions.

CBS has responded to the lawsuit, saying:

“This latest move by Mr. David is a desperate attempt to distract copyright holders like us from continuing our rightful claims. His lawsuit against CBS affiliates is riddled with inaccuracies, and we are confident that we will prevail, just as we did in the injunction hearing involving his company.”

Also, does anyone see the awesome irony in Dentron Bendross of 2 Live Crew suing someone for copyright infringement, considering his group was part of one of the more famous fair use lawsuits ever?

Oh well.  It shouldn’t be too hard to discern where I land on the issue.  But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

CNET Limewire Torrent Freak Report