Last year on this site, I wrote a series of articles about important copyright cases that could seriously impact blogging and the Internet at large. All in all there were five such cases, each with the ability to drastically change how bloggers and other Web publishers operated.
Now that more than a year has passed since the original articles, it seems like a good time to go back and see what has happened with those cases where, they sit right now and where they are likely heading.
X17 v. Perez Hilton
In this case, Perez Hilton, a well-known gossip blogger and columnist, was sued by the paparazzi photograph agency for illegally using their photos on his blog. In the initial article, it was noted that Hilton routinely took photos from their library, drew pictures on them and posted them to his site. This case had the potential to impact any blogger that uses images from others on their site.
Update: Shortly after the original post went up, Hilton and X17 reached a settlement in the case, the terms of which have not been disclosed. With no court ruling, there is no impact nor any clarification on the law in this particular area.
Since the settlement terms have not been disclosed, it is difficult to declare a “winner” or a “loser” though it is worth noting that X17’s images are no longer displayed on Hilton’s site.
Universal Music v. Lenz
Lenz is a mother who took a short 30-second video of her toddler dancing to the beat of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”. The clip, originally intended for just friends and family, found national attention when Universal Music filed a DMCA notice against Lenz. Lenz filed a counternotice to have the video put back and filed a lawsuit claiming that the video should not have been taken down at all.
As discussed in the original article on the case, there were many questions raised by the lawsuit, the first of which being fair use of using music in videos and the exact nature of what constitutes, and possibly what reprimands can be claimed against, a false takedown notice.
Update: The Case is ongoing as of this writing. in August, Lenz won a major victory when the judge refused to dismiss her claim saying that copyright holders had to consider fair use before issuing takedown notices. This case is still ongoing and, given the nature of the matter, will likely spell well into the middle part of 2009 at least.
Viacom v. YouTube (Google)
Viacom, the owner of several prominent television channels, sued YouTube’s parent company Google for copyright infringement claiming that the site, which allows users to upload clips, had violated their rights and were not in compliance, or at least protected, by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
In the original article, it was discussed how the case could answer a large number of questions about the types of sites that are protected by the DMCA, since many of the new technologies were created after the DMCA was passed in 1998 and there are many legal uncertainties for sites such as YouTube.
Update: The case, unfortunately, is far from settled. In July the court ordered YouTube to turn over its user logs to Viacom, a move that raised privacy concerns. Beyond that, little else has happend of importance.
The biggest news comes from an unrelated case in which Veoh, a similar video sharing site, triumphed over a pornography distributor and was ruled to enjoy DMCA protection, even though the site encodes videos into Flash.
Though the case is still very much alive, it appears that the news favors YouTube significantly.
Coton v. TVX Films
When Lara Jade Coton was 14, she took a photo of herself wearing a top hat and sitting in a window. Four years later, she was stunned to find her photo on the cover of a pornographic DVD entitled “Body Magic”. Coton, who was from England, sought help in resolving the mater but a Tampa-area attorney, Richard Harrison, stepped up and filed suit on her behalf.
As the original article discussed, the case delved into questions about how effectively photographers and other artists could protect their works from commercial use. It also dealt heavily with jurisdictional issues as the media company involved, TVX Films, is Houston-based, not Tampa.
Update: This case was more difficult than others to get information on. There is no Citizen Medial Law Project page on this case and information since the filing has been scarce. I have been able to look up the ongoing paperwork filed in the case and see that it remains very active. The case seems to be mired in discovery related issues though the jurisdictional ones do not seem to have played as big of a role as I predicted.
This case is still very much a “live” one with little resolved and there were filings as late as the 8th. I will report more when it comes in.
MGM v. Grokster
Many, understandably, felt that the Grokster case was resolved after the Supreme Court decision in 2005. However, the ruling, which found that Grokster could be held liable for the infringements that took place by those that used their software. It did not determine what damages could be awarded, what would constitute reasonable protections by such a service among other questions. So, the case went back to the district court where StreamCast, one of the defendants in the case, is fighting on.
As discussed in the original article, the issues of damages, irreparable harm and what form an injunction should take remain unanswered and are very critical for copyright holders to be aware of moving forward.
Update: Shortly after the original article was written (all five were written in early October, about the same time), the judge in the case granted the injunction against Streamcast saying that the service had to “use the most effective means available to reduce the infringing capabilities of the Morpheus System and Software.”
This has clear impact on sites such as YouTube, which have since added such filtering technologies to their site in a bid to head off a similar negative ruling.
Of the five cases, one is settled, three are ongoing and one saw a court ruling. It was a busy year for copyright law though it appears that 2009 has the potential to be an even more important one.
If there is one thing that is certain about copyright law looking toward the new year, even with the RIAA’s announced plan to stop the bulk lawsuits, it is that there will be no shortage of rulings and new copyright conflicts taking place.
2009 is going to be an interesting year.