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

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:

Topic: Legal

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Who is to blame for piracy?

    Arguably, one could suggest it is the music industry for their high prices, or a shift in generational ethics and a rise in younger users downloading illegal content, without thought as to who might suffer as a result. But should the record industry or government do more, or should they have done something pre-1995 when it was a free-for-all?
    • RE: CNET, CBS hit with piracy lawsuit: Who is to blame for piracy?

      <UL><I>Arguably, one could suggest it is the music industry for their high prices</I></UL>
      The lawsuit already alleges that CBS "may have incited the use of copyright infringement." Why pile on now? The sight of a ZDNet blogger suggesting that stealing -- as opposed to not buying -- is 'arguably' an appropriate response to a price perceived as 'too high' might affect impressionable young people in ways unforeseen.
      Robert Hahn
      • RE: CNET, CBS hit with piracy lawsuit: Who is to blame for piracy?

        @Robert Hahn In trying to take all arguments into account, I also vastly resonate the opinions of my demographic, hence the column title.
  • Lame Countersuit

    Classic lame countersuit completely without merit.
  • RE: CNET, CBS hit with piracy lawsuit: Who is to blame for piracy?

    "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?"

    They both are. Whoever sold/served the alcohol will be charged with serving a minor, a criminal offense, and they or their establishment will be most likely face a civil suit. The driver will be arrested and charged with DUI/DWI, and any other appropriate charges, most likely manslaughter.
  • A class action lawsuit, eh?

    A class action lawsuit, eh? We all saw how well that worked out for Microsoft and nVidia. Let's see, Microsoft was forced to give people coupons so they could buy more Microsoft products. nVidia was forced to provide the absolute sh*ttiest laptop in the world to people who got screwed over by buying a high end laptop with the known-faulty nVidia chipset.<br><br>CBS could send them 99 cent Chinese iPod knockoffs as "punishment."
    • Poor analogy...Better yet.....

      A gang of thieves rob a bank and get away in a car. Blaming CBS in this case would be like blaming the car manufacturer as an accessory to theft.

      Or suing the makers of tools because someone used a hammer to hit some else over the head.

      Stupid lawsuit, should be thrown out.
      linux for me
      • RE: CNET, CBS hit with piracy lawsuit: Who is to blame for piracy?

        @linux for me That is a pretty good analogy, admittedly.
  • Greedy record labels are the problem, not coping of music.

    Copyright infringement is not theft at all, it's a civil contract dispute and nothing more. A theft has to deny someone physical property. The fact is a digital copy of information does not "steal" anything. It's breaking a civil contract law that protects the authors right to copy. The music and movie industries is trying to brainwash the people into thinking something that isn't true at all. If I read a page in a book and memorize it, I have created a digital copy in my brain (so to speak). Under the ridiculous copyright laws lasting life of author plus 100 years, memorizing a page in a book, a song or anything for that mater is a violation. If I sing a memorized song I can be sued for copyright violations (and I'm sure they have sued for this under the live performance copyright rules). It's completely wrong that our government is so easily bribed. With enough money you can get any law passed today. When are our law makers going to start making laws to protect the people against greedy corporate scum that prey on the working class. The groups like the DMCA have billions of disposable dollars to waste on bribing our congress/senate and suing the working class. They sue people that have to decide each month if they should risk getting their electric turned off or buying lunch at work. The people that have the money to buy an overpriced CD generally will, the people that have no money choose to pay their electric bill and download some music. Nearly all downloaded music would never have been bought. It allows the working poor class the chance to have a tiny bit of pleasure in their miserable lives, and these billionaires that keep 90%+ of the artist's money want to deprive the poor of some music. The billionaires that are pushing the copyright-police state laws are the same people that also use contract law to steal nearly all the money from the actual artists. If you removed the rich record labels and movie producers from the equation the people could afford to pay the 10% to the artists direct. Pass new laws protecting the artists from the record labels and give each artist the right to sell their songs direct regardless of any other contract and you will have solved the whole problem. If there really is any problem. If there really was a problem why do the record labels have billions to waste on lawsuits? When they are all bankrupt and have sold their yachts and multi-million dollar homes we can talk about needing new laws, but I don't see that problem and that means their isn't a music download problem either- it's just pure greed.