CNET Is Now Facing Hundreds of Millions In Piracy Infringement Penalties

What’s wrong with reviewing and deep-linking to thousands upon thousands of potentially infringing applications?

According to a just-issued decision by federal judge Dale S. Fischer, a number of editorial policies by CBS-owned C|Net could generate liabilities in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  “Our evidence will show that not only do they have vicarious liability, but C|Net actually embedded links from their web pages to thousands of known copyrighted songs,” plaintiff David Alki of declared, on behalf of a coalition of artists.

“That puts a giant ‘I’ on inducement.”

Fischer allowed the Alki-led suit to proceed, specifically on charges of copyright inducement at That Supreme Court precedent, established back in 2005, holds that companies are liable for infringement if they knowingly encourage and profit from illegal application usage.  In the case of MGM vs. Grokster, that involved goading customers to download all sorts of copyrighted material while banking on the traffic, regardless of non-infringing uses.

  • Save

Fast-forward to 2012, and C|Net – and by default, CBS – now seem to fit that test.  For example, reviewers routinely published detailed reviews of applications that have now been proven illegal by the courts.  And, along the way, they’ve taken screenshots of illegal usage, while profiting from the adviews and traffic.

“The focus of the case now shifts from the question of liability to the question of damages for our many plaintiffs.”

attorney Jaime Marquart of Baker Marquart.

That also includes referral bonuses, including for judged criminal Limewire.  Indeed, C|Net hailed Limewire as ‘the new Napster’ while receiving cash for every resulting download.  “CBS was well aware that these software applications were used overwhelmingly to infringe when they first partnered with Limewire and other P2P providers, but ignored it in exchange for a steady stream of income,” the original complaint alleges.

But an important defense emerges: what if C|Net is being held liable for applications that had not yet been judged infringing by the courts?  For example, Limewire was battling for years before getting shut down, and serious questions surrounded its legality.  So why should C|Net be held accountable for an innocent site, prior to being proven guilty?

May 4, 2011: “Messy! Artist Coalition Suing CBS, C|Net for ‘Mass-Scale’ Infringement…”

Well, here’s one reason: some of the reviews actually show examples of piracy, ie, artist downloads for the likes of Madonna, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Usher, Rihanna and Eminem, in one review for MP3Rocket for example.  On that topic, judge Fischer noted that C|Net could have easily avoided inducement liability if had merely offered editorials or direct-links to download, but not both simultaneously.

“Defendants here are alleged to have distributed specific P2P software, while simultaneously providing explicit commentary on that software’s effectiveness in infringing copyright. Such behavior moves beyond opinion into the realm of conduct and does not directly implicate any First Amendment issues.”

10 Responses

  1. Question

    When is CNET going to face charges for distributing malware, ransomware and trojans? Which agency is responsible for such an investigation?

  2. Casey

    At the end of the day it is the users who are responsible for copyright infringment. No one forced them to use this software for illegal purposes. A lot of the software available on CNET may be capable of being used for illegal purposes, but that does not automatically make the software illegal unless ruled so. If CBS loses this we have a serious problem in our society.

  3. PwnSauce

    lulz@Casey, you must work for CBS and or the MPAA. Copywrite laws and intellectual property rights are a scam, they stifle innovation and inspiration as well. Its about time CBS got what is coming to them and their crony friends that do as they have. The sooner this world is rid of these groups that stand in between artists and consumers the better. TV is dead and the movie industry is dying off and not soon enough, these are the last gasps of air from a dying group of criminals. Oh and wtg CBS for screwing up Fender for so many years 😉

    • Casey

      I have no love for CBS, but if they lose this case an extremely dangerous precedent will be set. It could effectively hold all websites that offer software downloads liable for offering software that can be used for infringement. This could allow for even open-source mirrors to be held liable along with storage lockers hosting software downloads. Whether or not we like CBS is not important at this point. If they don’t win this case we will be a lot worse off.

      The movie industry is going very strong and unless you don’t want to watch a single movie or TV show ever again, I don’t think you really want them to die off. Change? Sure, they could use some change. But if they die off, then we have no more. I don’t watch many TV shows, but I am quite happy with the few I do. In particular, I watch Game of Thrones. Great show. It also costs roughly $6-8 million per episode to create. While I don’t like paying the price I have to pay to watch it, I know free doesn’t pay those kind of bills. Advertising and free will donations are not going to cut it either. Period.

      • Central Scrutinizer

        The article states that it is ok to direct users to sites offering software or content that is or can be used for copyright infringement purposes.

        Where CInet runs into liability is when they describe the software and how great and effective it is at infringinging others copyright then provide the link.

        A website can’t claim innocence or ignorance of infringing activity when editors/contributors to the site explain how to use the software for illegal purposes.

        • JesseJ

          Huh, really? If I write a blog about how to kill someone, then make money off the knife, do I get fined even though I didn’t kill anyone?

          Let me demonstrate.

          Check out this knife! It’s GREAT for killing people, especially when you twist it – here, let me show you how. Stick it into the person, then, twist, just like the video on our site demonstrates!

          Of course, this knife can also be used to cut tomatoes and zucchini, all legal!

          Now get it [ad-supported] [referral bounty]

          – the editors of CNet

          • Visitor

            I don’t disagree with your analogy, however here are just a few more analogies and a few questions about your analogy.

            The driver of a car knows where there are banks that are easy to rob b/c of specific knowledge of the security weaknesses. He tells anyone who is willing to pay him how to rob the banks w/o being caught. He encourages them to do it by explaining how his information and opinions are foolproof. He opens the car door and says I can take you there. If they get in the car, he takes them there drops them off then leaves and doesn’t return to pick them up.

            The customers have a choice they can rob the bank or go home.

            Is the driver criminally liable? Is he liable if no one gets in the car? Is he liable if only 1% of the people who get in the car actually rob the bank, what if his information is so good 90% of his customers end up robbing the bank?

            Finally in your analogy, what if the blog writer gets paid by someone to explain (in addition to how the knife cuts tomatoes) how the knife could kill a specific person AND explain how to do it without getting caught? Is the blog writer criminally liable if the specific person ends up being killed with a knife after reading and then following the instructions on how to do it on the blog? What if the blog writer gets paid a bonus if the specific person ends up dead?

        • Casey

          For now that is the case. But the battle is long from being over and could end up with a different outcome.

  4. @riskycereal

    Wow a Big Dog is finally being put under the copyright infringement gun!!

  5. Lulaine@RDLegalFunding

    CNET could be facing a deluge of plaintiffs. The plaintiffs (Musicians) are on the hunt for any kind of infringment on their property which includes their music. If any website is giving a green light or making it easier for people to steal then its quite possible a lawsuit is in their future.