May 04, 2011 8:51am PT by Eriq Gardner
CBS Hit With Major Lawsuit for Contributing to Piracy (Exclusive)
Just as a big jury trial in New York gets underway that will determine whether LimeWire owes billions of dollars in damages for inducing rampant copyright violations on its file-sharing network, CBS Interactive is now being sued in a separate lawsuit that looks to punish it for playing a role in LimeWire's growth.
The new lawsuit is spearheaded by Alki David, an eccentric billionaire whose company, FilmOn, is the subject of ongoing litigation brought by major broadcast networks, including CBS. Now, David seems to be exacting revenge in a style befitting his whimsical ways -- by recruiting a handful of hip hop artists including members of 2 Live Crew and Ying Yang Twins to press the case that CBS subsidiary CNET contributed to the growth of the copyright-disrespecting file-sharing era.
Alki David is the lead plaintiff among more than a dozen rappers in a lawsuit filed yesterday in California District Court against CBS Interactive, CNET, and LimeWire. He signaled that something like this was on its way after he was sued by broadcasters for streaming content digitally. A few months ago, he delivered a video rant that challenged CBS' so-called "hypocrisy" on piracy matters.
David's new lawsuit looks to expand responsibility for Internet piracy. If copyright theft is analogous to a bank robbery, and a getaway car driver can be held partly responsible for participating in the crime, what about the car mechanic that tunes up the car so that it's fast enough to evade the police?
According to the complaint, users downloaded more than 220 million copies of LimeWire off of CBS websites, which allegedly constituted 95% of all LimeWire downloads. The plaintiffs say that CBS received "massive amounts of revenue from P2P providers" and were very knowledgeable about what was going on.
"The CBS Defendants' business model has been so dependent upon P2P and file-sharing that entire pages of Download.com are designed to specifically list and categorize these software offerings," says the complaint. "In fact, the CBS Defendants' were 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 complaint then goes on to say that not only was CBS distributing file-sharing clients like LimeWire, but its websites were furnishing articles to explain how users could use P2P software to infringe and to instruct users on how to remove digital rights protections on digital music.
Representing the plaintiffs in the matter is the highly distinguished IP attorney, Michael Zeller at Quinn Emanuel, whose notably represented Mattel in the highly publicized copyright action against MGA Entertainment over the "Bratz" dolls.
Zeller has also represented Google, Disney, and perhaps most relevant to the current matter, AOL Time Warner, when that company was sued a decade ago by MP3Board for knowingly disseminating P2P client, Gnutella. It was alleged at the time that Time Warner was liable for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement. Zeller got that case dismissed, but now in a turn of events, is arguing against a big media company for contributory liability.
The case against CBS is made by asserting that CBS websites controlled its software platform and could have easily have refused to list LimeWire on its site but instead encouraged its growth via Pay-Per-Download programs and by hosting articles that called it the next Napster. The plaintiffs detail these allegations with the obvious intention to pass the knowledge threshold set up by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Grokster decision.
In a statement to THR, CBS calls the lawsuit a "desperate attempt to distract copyright holders like us from continuing our rightful claims."
"CBS and a host of other media companies were awarded a court ordered injunction against one of Alki David's companies last year with respect to that company's improper use of copyrighted content," says the statement. " 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."
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