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Author Drops Copyright Case Against Scribd Filter 81

Posted by timothy
from the damned-if-you-don't dept.
natehoy writes "Apparently, monitoring for copyright violations is not in itself a copyright violation, lawyers for Elaine Scott decided. As a result, they have dropped the lawsuit against Scribd, who was being simultaneously sued for allowing copies of Scott's work to be published, and retaining an unlicensed copy of the work in their filtering software to try and prevent future copyright violations."
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Author Drops Copyright Case Against Scribd Filter

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  • Seriously? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

    This is getting really frickin ridiculous.

    They are being sued for not blocking copyrighted data, and then sued for holding a copy in their filter so that they can block further copies? WTF?

    What do you even say to that kind of idiot?

    • Re:Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @01:16PM (#32979898)

      What do you even say to that kind of idiot?

      "Case dismissed."

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        What do the respective lawyers say to their clients?

        Thanks. We'll invoice you.

        • Wrong. They got big fat retainers first, especially, in Elaine Scott's case, if they were smart.

          See, lawyers hate losing cases, so if they even think they might lose, or, in harsher cases, the plaintiff's a fucking idiot, they'll want to cover themselves, and there's two ways to do that:

          1. Get as much money up front.
          2. Tell the client they might lose (or are fucking idiots). This isn't for their conscience, mind you, it's to stave off a possible misrepresentation suit.

          Of course, even if most l
      • There should be a fine for filing a frivolous lawsuit. And of course all court costs.

        • by fedos (150319)
          Don't forget paying the defendent's lawyer and court fees.
        • by Dhalka226 (559740)

          There is, if the judge actually rules it frivolous -- and there can be some pretty nasty penalties for the lawyer on top of the fine. However it almost never happens. You have to really be a fuckup to get a judge to make that ruling.

          As silly as this case would be, I don't think they're wrong. Having a copy for a good purpose is still having a copy, and that's what copyright is all about. Even if it would be ruled fair use, fair use is an affirmative defense meaning you technically did do what you're a

    • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nebaz (453974) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @01:22PM (#32979990)

      I don't know if it is getting ridiculous as much as the law itself is just confusing and unclear. It requires court arbitration to figure out the simplest of questions. "Is ripping CDs for a backup 'fair use'?", etc. Unfortunately, law is worse than code in terms of legacy support. Think of this as the ultimate code bloat legacy application. All you want to do is gut the whole thing and start over, but management will not entertain that motion at all.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by XanC (644172)

        The law SERIOUSLY needs to be gutted. I think the common law system is fatally flawed in this way. There's no way for a reasonably informed and intelligent citizen to be able to scratch the surface of the thousands of laws, decisions, precedents which could be brought to bear on him at any moment. How can that possibly be fair?

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          That's the point...

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Iamthecheese (1264298)
          The purpose of America's laws is to benefit the socioeconomic elite, keep everyone else in line, and prevent major social upheaval. The laws are doing just what they are designed to do.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted and you create a nation of law-breakers. --Ayn Rand

          • I wish I had mod points for you.

          • She definitely nailed that one! The whole quote is great and I especially agree with this part: "Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone?"
          • by Anonymous Coward

            Infringed from Orwell's work. The story 1984 has that as the central theme, concentrating on the fact that it is partial enforcement that is used to keep people down, NOT merely lots of laws.

            After all Randians would NOT like the bit about "don't enforce the laws against the rich and connected". Hence her gutting of 1984's main thread.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by selven (1556643)

          Just yesterday I saw a copy of the full criminal code, in all its fine print 700 page glory. I don't know how anyone can possibly say with a straight face that "ignorance is not an excuse".

          • by StikyPad (445176)

            It's not that ignorance isn't plausible, or even relevant, but that it cannot be used as prima facie evidence against criminal charges. It doesn't *excuse* a criminal act. It *can* be mitigating though. If it were any other way, you'd have people claiming they didn't know rape was illegal.

      • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @01:53PM (#32980444)

        I don't know if it is getting ridiculous as much as the law itself is just confusing and unclear.

        It doesn't need to be, the original laws on the subject were pretty easy to understand, and pretty reasonable. Each time they revise it though it just gets worse and worse.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      >What do you even say to that kind of idiot?

      "I'm sorry, from now on I'll use a hash instead"?

      • by cgenman (325138) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @01:36PM (#32980164) Homepage

        Sorry, a hash is a derivative work.

        • by bar-agent (698856)

          Sorry, a hash is a derivative work.

          I'd laugh but...I'm not so sure it isn't.

          Has this been tested in court? Or have copyright lawyers not discovered hashes?

          • by 91degrees (207121)
            I think it is. I also think that a single line quoted from a novel is in a very pedantic way.

            But that's why you have fair use. It is derived but it's not inringing because copyright law has exceptions for the at sort of thing.
      • Are you going to buy a legal copy of the work in question in order to make the hash? If not, you're still violating copyright when you get a copy to make the has with. If f you do buy it, then there's no point in making the hash since you own the copy you'll use in your filter.

      • A slight modification to the source and your hash is toast.

        mmm.....hash and toast.....and eggs.....and orange juice.

    • by blair1q (305137) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @01:53PM (#32980452) Journal

      The deposition goes like so:

      Plaintiff's attorney: Are you blocking users from uploading content belonging to my client?

      Defendant: Yes.

      Plaintiff's attorney: How?

      Defendant: We compare uploaded items to a copy of the book on our server.

      Plaintiff's attorney: I see. And did you pay for it?

      Defendant: What?

      Plaintiff's attorney: This book, that you have on your server.

      Defendant: Uh, yes. We bought it at Borders and scanned it in.

      Plaintiff's attorney: Did you buy a license to make an electronic copy of the hardcopy you purchased?

      Defendant: A what?

      Plaintiff's attorney: (makes a note).

      Defendant: Aw, shit.

    • What do you even say to that kind of idiot?

      You ask if this is a clever use of the Streisand Effect [wikipedia.org]. Had you heard of Elaine Scott before this?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dhalka226 (559740)

      Well, it is certainly on the silly side and the money-grubbing-greedy-bitch side as well. But legally speaking, aren't they correct? Especially if they really were holding an entire copy of the work for their filter?

      I'm no expert, but it doesn't seem to me like they actually need to hold a full copy of the work to do their filtering. Can't they just take a random sampling of phrases and search for those, or something else entirely?

  • knew that! (Score:3, Funny)

    by StripedCow (776465) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @01:16PM (#32979894)

    Of course, I knew that already. My hard-drive contents, including the "diff" program are one big copyright violation monitoring tool.

  • 1 - forbid site from avoiding copyright infringements.
    2 - sue when copies of copyrighted works appear on site.
    3 - PROFIT!
    • Except that your #1 is not the facts of the case.

      The site was using an unauthorized copy of the work to check for other unauthorized copies.

      Stealing a car to look for stolen cars doesn't make you a cop.

      • by Reapman (740286)

        Seriously? Scribd was essentially providing a service saving the author money, and that's grounds for a LAWSUIT? So to ensure that they have nothing illegal on their servers Scribd (and others) should be bound to purchase a copy of EVERY BOOK?!?

        Side A: You are bound by law to prevent that from being copied.
        Side B: What is "that"?
        Side A: Give us money and we'll allow you to know what your bound by law to prevent doing.

        IANAL but that smells of extortion to me.

        By the way I think your argument using cars shou

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by blair1q (305137)

          Scribd possessed a copy of a book that they did not pay for, and using it as part of a software program.

          That's grounds for a lawsuit.

          Whether it "saved" the author money is moot. They could have saved the author money by manually examining uploaded content, instead of by using a pirated copy in their software.

          • by plumby (179557)

            Even ignoring the practical impossibility of doing this, presumably they would still have had to purchase a copy of that, and every other, book (and probably one copy for each person that would be tasked with checking the documents) in order to do it legally.

      • by Issarlk (1429361)
        Then all is not lost and that business model might still have a bright future.
        All we need to do is include books in shrink wraps, and have an EULA you must agree to before openingg, saying you may not use the book in a copyright infringement prevention system.
    • Playing a devil's advocate a little bit here but is there no way to avoid copyright infringements other than storing the entire copy of a copyrighted work in your system?
      • by natehoy (1608657)

        Theoretically? Probably.

        But the only way to be absolutely sure you are catching all of the violations is to store enough of the work itself that your filter can recognize it when it sees it.

        A hash would work, for a specific version of the copyrighted work. However, I could add one sentence to the beginning of the document and the hash would then be different and the filter check would fail.

        The only way to be sure is to somehow store enough information about the actual text to recognize that specific text

  • New Strategy... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It's a new strategy for pirates.

    "I'm not pirating software! I'm watching out for copyright infringement, and I need a copy in of the pirated product in order to do just that!"

  • Let us suppose we are an image hosting site, that has in the past been used to host child porn (Think Flickr or ImageHost). By the same logic, it would then be appropriate for us to maintain copies of child porn in order to filter new uploads against it. In my opinion, the only organizations that should be allowed to retain copies of c.p. are those government organizations actively involved in policing it -- regardless of motive. So when our company gets v&, do you think they'll accept our filtering
    • by Zironic (1112127)

      Why wouldn't you be allowed to keep copies for your filter? It would be inane to argue it's harming anyone.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        If you bought the copy you were using in your filter, then you did the right thing.

        If you scanned it, or kept one of the illegal uploads as a template, then you hurt the people who didn't get paid for the copy.

        • by blair1q (305137)

          I have no idea why the title of this thread is what it is, but I'm certain it's for an unconscionably stupid reason bordering on or diving deeply into trolling.

          I don't want to read it. Suffice it to say that I could refute the reasoning. So just consider it nullified and move on.

        • by natehoy (1608657)

          If you bought the copy you were using in your filter, then you did the right thing.

          Why should Scribd have to buy a copy to put it in a filter? They haven't infringed the work. They are preventing others from doing so.

          The copy they retain will not be distributed. It will be used to prevent further distribution. It exists to help the author, not hurt them.

          The logical extension of your line of reasoning is that any author can increase their sales by simply accusing every document-sharing site on the planet of distributing a copy of their work.

          Since the site logically needs a copy of the

        • If you scanned it, or kept one of the illegal uploads as a template, then you hurt the people who didn't get paid for the copy.

          Hurt them? If you make an unauthorized copy, you have merely failed to benefit them. Despite the efforts of the content industry to equate the two, there actually is a difference in both degree and kind between taking twenty dollars out of your pocket and simply not giving you twenty dollars.

          • by blair1q (305137)

            It's not the industry, it's the law.

            If I own the content, and you want the content, you pay me for the content. You don't copy it from someone else unless you've paid me, and you don't make copies of it without paying me, and you don't sell copies of it that you haven't paid me for.

            There are exceptions to this, some called fair use, but stealing a whole copy of it to be used as part of your business is not that.

    • by D4MO (78537)

      You don't keep a copy of the image in question. You keep a hash to detect duplicates and a simhash to flag potential duplicates.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cgenman (325138)

      What if you're training filtering applications to automatically discover and block child porn? You'd want to talk to the police first, obviously, but you have a strong legitimate reason in having it there. By you having it for non-nefarious reasons, in order to help stop it, the world would have significantly less of it going around.

      US courts have ordered many services to implement filtering systems for copyrighted material. For those to work, they need to know what the copyrighted material to be blocked

      • by blair1q (305137)

        US courts have ordered many services to implement filtering systems

        Really?

        I'd think they'd just order services not to allow infringing content, and leave the means up to the service.

      • What if you're training filtering applications to automatically discover and block child porn? ...

        I heard a story about a similar problem with a clever solution. According to the story, IBM wanted to eliminate all "bad words" from all of IBM's computer programs. The expectation, clearly, was that there might be bad words in the comments, which would offend IBM's customers. IBM has customers all over the world, and they read a large number of languages, so the directive was to eliminate all bad words in all of the languages used by IBM's customers.

        The programmer given this task was not fluent in all o

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Could I propose an extension to Godwin's Law? Or maybe a modernization of it? "As any legal or political discussion progresses, the probability that someone will bring up child porn approaches one", complete with the "and the person who brought it up loses the argument" clause? Seriously, is that all anyone thinks about anymore?

    • That would only be valid if there were a single "child porn" and only exact copies of it were child porn. As this is obviously not true, your analogy fails.

    • by natehoy (1608657)

      Child porn brings up some other arguments, but I'll leave those for another discussion and discuss this:

      I feel the author's case has merit.

      One or the other portions of this specific case may have merit, but saying that BOTH aspects of the case has merit is basically saying that all web sites need to be shut down immediately for potential copyright violation.

      Ms. Scott initially demanded that Scribd perform due diligence on her behalf to prevent distribution of her copyrighted work. That is a fair and reasonable request, and the DMCA allows f

  • Judge! (Score:2, Funny)

    by ceraphis (1611217)
    I swear, judge! I downloaded that copy of Backyard Vixens 7 because I was trying to make sure nobody infringed on their copyright to do doggie style...that way.
  • If they found them guilty, then it would have been impossible for them to filter copyrighted stuff, making many people's lives easier. "Sorry, we can't do copyright filtering without violating copyrights..."
    • by master0ne (655374)

      actually it more likely would have led to a system where user generated content is dis allowed because there is no other way to block copyrighted material.

  • This could be a useful precedent for the music business. A growing problem is: You're a musician who thinks you've written a new tune, but think you might be pulling a George Harrison and merely putting new words to someone else's tune. How do you find out if the tune in your head is copyrighted?

    Some significant work has been done with putting music online in several computer-encoded forms, with several lookup tools that try to identify similar pieces of music. Leaving aside the fact that this is a nont

  • Step 1: Private profit-making business wants to make money by hosting other people's work (not necessarily without authorisation).

    Step 2: Some woman points out that her work was up without her authorisation.

    Step 3: Private profit-making business takes down her work and instead makes a copy of her work as part of an algorithm to prevent further infringement.

    Step 4: Woman points out the business is still making an unauthorised copy of her work.

    Step 5: Slashdot protects the "right" ("sense of entitlement") of

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