CNET, CBS hit with piracy lawsuit: Who is to blame for piracy?

Summary:ZDNet's parent company, CBS Interactive, is being sued for alleged copyright offenses. Once again, the piracy debate rumbles on.

Disclaimer: ZDNet is part of CBS Interactive, along with CNET and CBS News. This post reflects my own views and not that of my employer or CBS Interactive or any of its subsidiaries, as has always been the case.

CBS, the parent company of CBS Interactive which runs ZDNet, CNET and CBS News, is being sued for allegations for copyright infringement offenses for distributing Limewire and other peer to peer software.

Billionaire and FilmOn founder Alki David is heading the complaint, supported in a class action suit backed by a number of music artists, following months of threatening to sue the company, after CBS and other major U.S. broadcasters sued FilmOn for violating copyright law by transmitting their broadcasts without permission.

The complaint alleges CNET was involved in developing copyright infringing features for Limewire, and claims that editorial teams dealing with reviewing the software may have incited the use of copyright infringement. Another key issue in the suit is that CBS may have received revenue from peer-to-peer downloads from the sites.

A CBS spokesperson said:

"This latest move by Mr. David is a desperate attempt to distract copyright holders like us from continuing our rightful claims. 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."

Outside of this bloody great big nutshell comes the bigger question.

Who is to blame for piracy: those who provide peer-to-peer software, or those who download using illegally copyrighted content with it?

Some argue that CBS is "a fourth or fifth party at best" where the liability falls down to the end users. As 95% of all Limewire downloads came from CBS sites, it is easy-pickings to blame the distributor.

Considering yesterday's ruling that an IP address does not directly denote one single person, it makes especially in the case of peer-to-peer sharing cases more difficult to trace the alleged infringer. In effect, this makes suing the individual far harder to achieve.

As a criminologist and sociologist, I often deal with the abolitionist approach: doing away with punitive measures against criminalised problems.

Alcohol is legal to purchase to a majority of citizens in the United States. The younger minority, however, fall under strict prohibition. If a youngster buys alcohol illegally, and drink-drives and kills someone, who is responsible? The person driving the car, or the person who sold the alcohol?

Prostitution is illegal to solicit but in many countries, like the United Kingdom, it is not illegal to sell the services -- in a bid to give sex workers some level of legal protection, and to demonise those who solicit and take advantage. But the debate as to whether prostitution should be legal or illegal continues on, with polarised views and perspectives of taking either side, for or against.

Philosophically, sociologically and even politically, it is a question that will have many of you will try and answer, but by definition there is no right or wrong answer.

Lawsuits are for the rich, and often famous. There is a reason as to why I don't get sued very often, for reasons that I am neither rich nor particularly famous.

There is no one definition of piracy, not can the record industry labels agree on the stance of action to take.

But the world of content needs to wake up to the fact that Pandora's box has opened, with the vast majority of younger users circumventing piracy measures with open and easy-to-use tools and services.

Piracy, in my honest and professional opinion, cannot be solved. Either crack down on it to levels never seen before, and impose harsh penalties and enforcement regulations to punish as many as possible, or do away with it entirely and create an open and free market for content and media.

The latter sounds unfeasible, but unfortunately so does the former. We could bridge the gap and find middle-ground, but we have that and it doesn't work.

Related content:

Topics: Legal

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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