If you’ve been reading Web TV Wire for a while you may remember when QuickSilverScreen (QSS), a website that links to pirated videos on sites like YouTube, was forced to be leave U.S soil due to a potential lawsuit from Fox.
QuickSilverScreen’s crime? Linking to infringing content which is generally considered illegal under US law.
QSS is one of many sites facing the impact of this grey area of the law. MahTV, a UK based site, was also forced to shutdown in fear of a lawsuit.
Don’t Get Confused
The first thing people say when they here their favorite TV episode site was closed down by the MPAA, Fox or some other media giant is:
“Well Google links to loads of infringing content, if my favorite pirate TV site is illegal, then so is Google!”
That statement is wrong and here is why:
- Google’s primary purpose is not to link to infringing content, therefore it is protected by the DMCA safe harbor laws IF it takes down the content.
- Google, when asked to do so, will remove links to infringing content. Google does this because it knows it will get sued if it refuses (see below for an example). Here are Google’s public details about reporting infringing links in their search results so it can take them down.
However, a pirate TV site primary purpose is to encourage infringement and link to pirate videos. So it is not even protected by safe harbor laws so can be sued outright.
However, suing it outright would be a waste of money as a few takedown notices will usually encourage users to shut down the site.
Although it sometimes doesn’t work that way. For example QuickSilverScreen was given to someone in Malaysia where the laws are different so it still exists. Some sites like PeekVid just ignore the takedown notices and await the lawsuit.
Google Faces the Swift Arm of Justice Like Anyone Else
There is an example where Google didn’t remove infringing links from it search engine when requested:
Perfect 10 is an adult men’s magazine that filed a lawsuit requesting that Google stop creating and distributing thumbnails of its copyrighted images and to also stop linking to websites that contains these images in the Google images search results.
According to a Wikipedia entry:
“Google states that it complied with the notices where it could find the infringement and determine that it was in fact an infringement by removing them from Google Search. However, it noted that it was unable to do this in many cases due to deficiencies in the requests.”
The court ruled that the Google thumbnails were in fact infringing but linking to illegal copies of the images was not in itself infringing. The court said "[infringing] websites existed long before Google Image Search was developed and would continue to exist were Google Image Search shut down"
The court ruled that linking to infringing content was not illegal. Great news for the pirated TV sites except that this was only carried out in a lower U.S court and is now being battled out in a high court.
The high court overturned the ruling about thumbnails being copyright infringement (no surprise there). But the whole issue of linking liability is still up in the air:
From Washington Post:
”Yesterday’s ruling (over thumbnail use) was not a complete victory for Google, because the judges directed the lower court to reconsider a separate finding in the company’s favor. The judge had decided that Google was not liable for allowing Internet users to link from its search results to other Web sites that display photographs without copyright permission.”
Google Going Back to Court
So Google is going back to court over the linking liability and if they win it will set a strong precedent that linking to infringing content is perfectly legal (for U.S citizens anyway – European & other laws are another story).
But I’m sure the battle won’t end there whatever the verdict. Solid linking laws need to be put in force that clearly describe what is illegal to link to and what is not to prevent the constant squabbling.
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