It's been an odd week in Internet news as both Quentin Tarantino and Prince looked to sue people for linking to things. The former is suing Gawker for posting links to his recently leaked film script hosted elsewhere, while the latter filed a suit against his own fans for sharing links to his material on blogs and Facebook.
Are these legitimate cases? Share your thoughts in the comments.
So how did it come to this?
As you may have read last week, a first draft of what would have been Tarantino's next film, The Hateful Eight, leaked after the writer/director shared it with six people, including actors Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern and Tim Roth. Quentin was so furious that he vowed not to make the movie, indicating he would move on to one of his other ideas, and perhaps have The Hateful Eight published.
Naturally, knowing the script is out there, fans were/are hungry to read it. This is, after all, a Tarantino film, even if only on the page. And you know what that means to the blogger world. PAGEVIEWS!!!
That's where a site like Gawker (a master of pageviews) comes in. Gawker's Defamer put out the article "Here Is the Leaked Quentin Tarantino Hateful Eight Script". The article points to two destinations that host what it calls what "appears to be the script". The links point to AnonFiles.com and Scribd. As of the time of this writing, the script is still up on AnonFiles, but has been removed from Scribd.
AnonFiles says on its about page, "AnonFiles.com is NOT a replacement for MegaUpload. We do not allow illegal content to be uploaded."
Now Tarantino is suing Gawker, which didn't actually host the script, but simply pointed to it via a couple simple web links, just as anyone else on the Internet could easily do with a simple href tag.
The Hollywood Reporter obtained the complaint. It says:
Gawker Media has made a business of predatory journalism, violating people’s rights to make a buck. This time they went too far. Rather than merely publishing a news story reporting that Plaintiff’s screenplay may have been circulating in Hollywood without his permission, Gawker Media crossed the journalistic line by promoting itself to the public as the first source to read the entire Screenplay illegally. Their headline boasts “Here Is the Leaked Quentin Tarantino Hateful Eight Script” – “Here,” not someplace else, but “Here” on the Gawker website. The article then contains multiple direct links for downloading the entire Screenplay through a conveniently anonymous URL by simply clicking button-links on the Gawker page, and brazenly encourages Gawker visitors to read the Screenplay illegally with the invitation to “Enjoy!” it. There was nothing newsworthy or journalistic about Gawker Media facilitating and encouraging the public’s violation of Plaintiff’s copyright in the Screenplay, and it’s conduct will not shield Gawker Media from liability for their unlawful activity.
So, in other words, the problem as far as Tarantino and his lawyers are concerned, is not only that the article links to it (though that appears to be the main concern), but the way it was titled.
I'm no lawyer, but at its most basic level, the Gawker title seems to be stating a fact: this is where you can find the script. "Here it is." It's not "Come read Tarantino's leaked script illegally on our site."
The complaint says there's "nothing newsworthy" about the article, but most Tarantino fans would probably argue against that. To the most die-hard fans, his latest would-be film being available to read online is about as newsworthy as it gets.
It's easy to see why Tarantino is upset about the whole ordeal, but this complaint seems misplaced.
Tarantino reportedly told Deadline last week, “I am not talking out of both sides of my mouth, because I do like the fact that everyone eventually posts it, gets it and reviews it on the net. Frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I like the fact that people like my shit, and that they go out of their way to find it and read it. But I gave it to six motherfucking people! Starting this week, I’ll be setting meetings with publishers.”
Gawker says it will fight the suit. The publication also makes the point that Tarantino himself actually made the the script news by speaking out about it to the press. Basically, of course people are going to be looking for it.
"Defamer covers what people in Hollywood are talking about," writes Gawker's John Cook. "Thanks to Tarantino's shrewd publicity strategy, the leak of The Hateful Eight—and the content of the script—had been widely dissected online and was a topic of heated conversation among Defamer readers. News of the fact that it existed on the internet advanced a story that Tarantino himself had launched, and our publication of the link was a routine and unremarkable component of our job: making people aware of news and information about which they are curious."
"No one at Gawker saw or had access to Tarantino's script before AnonFiles posted it," says Cook. "No one at Gawker transmitted it—or anything else, at all—to AnonFiles. No one at Gawker encouraged anyone to do so. No one at Gawker has any earthly idea how AnonFiles obtained a copy."
And then there's Prince.
The pop icon reportedly filed a suit in the Northern District of California against 22 people who found links to various concerts and posted them on Facebook and blogs for $1 million each. I wonder if this strategy is next on the Tarantino legal agenda.
As TechDirt reminds us, Prince once said, "The internet's completely over."
Internet law watcher Mike Masnick writes, "There was a time, not even that long ago, when it seemed like Prince might have been the first musician to actually 'get' the internet. He had done a few things that seemed really focused on embracing the internet, spreading his music more widely, and making revenue from alternate streams, such as concerts, sponsorships and fan clubs. But... it quickly became apparent that he was going in the other direction, and in an extreme manner -- in part, because it seemed like for all of his ideas, he failed at following through on most of them."
Prince has a history of suing websites over using photos, so the latest move is not completely unexpected, even if a complete contradiction of how the Internet (which doesn't appear to be "over" just yet) works.
After news of the suit blew up, Prince actually dropped it, but didn't exactly kill it. He let it go without prejudice. In other words, he can still refile it later.
If Tarantino wins his legal battle, and/or if Prince refiles and wins his, what precedent does that set for future cases and the web at large? Do people have to worry about pointing their friends to links to content that they may not even know is illegal? Do either of them have a shot at winning? Some "experts" think Tarantino has a pretty good one.
Interestingly enough, the Prince suit was filed in the very place where it was ruled that linking is not direct copyright infringement in the case of Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc. It was found that including a link is not the same as hosting the material yourself. Maybe he'll look to file elsewhere.