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Courts Force Out Scribd Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

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by hearit

hearit's picture
In The News

Lawyers drop a closely watched lawsuit against document-sharing site Scribd and a battle over a book, the website standing accused of copyright infringement by a kids’ author. Plaintiff’s attorneys had claimed that copyright filtering technology, used by the website, is itself a form of copyright infringement—a view the courts did not share.

Federal court in Texas attempted to tackle a proposed legal theory pertaining to copyright and online use—an issue never totally clarified in U.S. courts.

In simplest terms, the Scribd website is described as the online site that allows anyone to upload almost any document--in publishing the document to the web. The San Francisco, California, Scribd site allows for storage, search and retrieval of uploaded documents.

In the Scribd lawsuit it was maintained that copying and insertion of a copyrighted work into a filtering system--without compensating the copyright holder or obtaining their consent—is a violation of the U.S. Copyright Act. Plaintiff attorneys claim that use of such filters actually breach copyrights—in this instance specifically because Scribd “illegally copies the work into its copyright protection system” without copyright owner authorization.

Filtering systems generally compare new uploads to a database of copyrighted works, or a mathematical hash of those works, to filter out infringing documents. Copyright filtering technology has been working in the background--a feature now commonly built into websites focused on user-generated content sites and social networking.

The Scott lawsuit, just dropped by the courts, was filed September 2009--lawyers were seeking class action status in the legal claim. Childrens’ book writer Elaine Scott filed the legal suit after discovering her 1985 Stocks and Bonds on Scribd.

Apparently the kids’ author should have picked only one avenue: author Scott tried to grab Scribd both for trying to block pirated copies of her published book, yet also suing for the website’s failure to successfully do so. Attorneys claim that copy of Scott’s Stocks and Bonds was downloaded from the Scribd site about 100 times before the author sent a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice of the copyrighted work.

The Scribd website’s attorney says the Digital Millennium Copyright Act provided Scribd “safe-harbor” legal protection from the author’s claim--because, as an internet service provider, it removed the copyrighted work in question after receiving a DMCA takedown notice. Basically, the argument is that the company did what is legally required. Scribd, the attorney says, had a right of fair use to employ Scott’s words in its filters that are designed to prevent infringement.

“They realized that Scribd had a very strong protection under the law,” Scribd attorney Mendonca said regarding the Plaintiff’s attorneys.

Seems at least one attorney can’t win: in a strange and ironic twist, one of Scott’s lawyers used on the Plaintiff’s side—Kiwi Camara--had previously defended Jammie Thomas-Rasset. Thomas-Rasset, a Minnesota woman, was prosecuted as the nation’s first individual file-sharing Defendant to stand trial against the Recording Industry Association of America. In that instance, Defendant Thomas-Rasset was ordered to pay thousands of dollars in damages related to illegal file sharing. Attorney Camara had argued that Thomas-Rasset held a fair use right to file-share on the online Kazaa website.

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