If software is being distributed on your website that would be theoretically used to infringe copyright, does that make your website liable for any copyright infringement? The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) seem to think so and have targeted CNET’s download.com.
This isn’t an entirely new thing for CNET. In 2011, CNET was subjected to a lawsuit for offering file-sharing software application Limewire back in 2011. Still, it doesn’t make this recent accusation from the RIAA all that much less perplexing.
The RIAA is now pressuring CNET to remove a piece of YouTube video capturing software. From CNET:
The RIAA, the trade group representing the four largest record companies, began pressuring Google to start cracking down on the MP3-conversion services about a year ago, according to music industry sources. That’s about the same time the trade group says it began appealing to Download.com to do the same.
“More than a year ago we asked Download.com to remove applications that are used to steal our members’ content,” the RIAA said in a statement. “Download.com continues to ignore our requests and many of these applications are still being promoted on the site. Download.com is profiting from this infringement through advertisements and other ways it derives revenue when people use the site to download these applications.”
The RIAA focused its criticism on software found at Download.com called YouTubeDownloader. The software’s description at Download.com reads:
“YouTube Downloader is a popular, free program that enables you to download and convert online videos…for later viewing on your desktop or mobile device. It can convert files to MOV, MP4, 3GP, WMV, AVI, or MP3. The name ‘YouTube Downloader’ is terribly misleading because the program, in fact, downloads a whole lot more than just YouTube videos. On the developer’s site, you can find an extensive list of additional supported sites including Facebook and Vimeo.”
The RIAA noted that the software has more than 108 million downloads and Download.com editors gave it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. The organization also pointed out that there are many other similar applications available at the site, “which can be used to steal content from CBS, which owns Download.com.”
There was apparently some back and forth over whether or not the RIAA could really sue CNET for distributing such software given the equally possible legal uses for such software.
To my knowledge, this kind of software is often used by students – especially film and television students – to capture clips of content for the purposes of learning. I’m aware that sometimes, school Internet connections aren’t always 100% reliable, so if students need a clip from YouTube, they can use such software to download the clip for something like a presentation. It avoids the necessity of an Internet connection altogether, preventing lag from holding up a presentation in the first place. Of course, this is only one obviously legal use for downloading content (ala for the purposes of criticism AKA fair use).
What I find perplexing about the RIAA’s position on this is that because the software could be used for infringement, that automatically means the website is profiting off of infringement.
First of all, what can’t possibly be used for the purposes of infringement? Libre Office could be used to copy and paste copyrighted text, does that make it something that shouldn’t be distributed because it could be used to infringe? What about Microsoft Word? Couldn’t that be used for the purposes of infringement? What about MS Paint? Even better, what about the Print Screen key? Does that make all laptops and desktop computers something that can’t be distributed? The Windows operating system could be used for the purposes of infringement, why don’t we ban that too along with Apple and Linux? Oh, and while we are at it, all microphones, video cameras, PVR’s, Blu-Ray/DVD/CD burners might need to go. Oh, and can’t forget the mixtape, that could be used to infringe copyright too. How far back the technology chain do we have to go before groups like the RIAA are satisfied that a piece of technology can’t be used to infringe? Are we going to have to go so far as to ban all codified text and communication before we are satisfied?
Second of all, isn’t it a stretch to say that a website is infringing just because it offered a piece of software that could theoretically be used to infringe? It’s one thing to hold someone liable for uploading low quality Cam versions of movies in theaters, it’s quite another to say that a website is infringing because it could encourage someone to obtain something that could be used to infringe.
Thirdly, don’t the RIAA have anything better to do than to target websites like CNET as if they’re the next Pirate Bay? I mean, why isn’t the RIAA trying to do things like produce and promote talent or did that die off in the 80s?
Of course, I’ve known the RIAA for a long time now and have seen their arms operate in other countries. The only creativity that seems to still exist in these corporations is directed at finding new ways to make people criminals or finding ways to try and make technology and copyright laws more obsolete then they already are – and even then, they have a tendency to rip off other peoples ideas (like when the US government cut off all payment services to Wikileaks, the big record labels ripped off the idea, took the pirated idea and applied it to MegaUpload).
Since CNET’s policy is to wait for court orders before removing anything, it’ll be interesting to see if the RIAA wants to waste the time and resources to accomplish nothing, take the matter to court and force CNET to remove the software.