Sunday, September 20, 2020

‘Copyright Troll’ Loses Legal Battle and Must Pay $172,173 | TorrentFreak

indianapolis skylineOver the past years, dozens of independent photographers have taken their copyright disputes to court, accusing companies of using their work without permission.

While many of them have a legitimate claim, these ‘photo’ lawsuits generally have a bad reputation. This is in part due to the tactics employed both in and outside of court.

One of the most active attorneys, Richard Liebowitz, made a name for himself through such controversial practices. Courts have repeatedly reprimanded the attorney for various types of misconduct, including a $100,000 sanction a few weeks ago.

Another common name in federal courts is Richard Bell, who’s both a photographer and attorney. Over the years he filed more than 100 lawsuits for the unauthorized use of an Indianapolis skyline photo he claims to own the rights to.

To outsiders, these cases may appear to be regular copyright claims, but they also show the hallmarks of “copyright trolling.” The attorneys use the pressure of federal lawsuits and potential statutory damages of $150,000 to extract high settlement fees from defendants, without fighting a case on its merits.

While it’s unclear what the success rate of this practice is, most cases are indeed settled outside of court, suggesting that the strategy pays off. However, that’s not always the case. For Richard Bell it recently backfired.

Bell Sues Carmen Commercial over Skyline Photo

In 2016 Bell filed one of his many lawsuits. The target, in this case, was Carmen Commercial Real Estate Services who used the contested skyline photo in a blog post.

When Bell contacted Carmen Commercial he was offered a $1,000 settlement. However, the attorney wanted more and requested $5,000. He threatened a lawsuit if the real estate company failed to pay up.

This type of settlement pressure is not new. However, Carmen Commercial chose not to pay up and opted for a court battle instead. There, the company argued that Bell couldn’t prove that he owns the rights to the photo. And if he took it, it was made under the “work for hire” doctrine.

Bell Can’t Prove he Owns the Copyright

The case eventually went to trial where the jury sided with the real estate company. Bell obviously wasn’t happy with the outcome and demanded a new trial.

This request was recently denied by a federal court in Indianapolis. Not only that, the court also awarded $172,173 in attorneys’ fees and costs to the real estate company. This is justified, the court argued, in part due to the pressure tactics that were used.

“Defendant here offered to settle the matter for $1,000 before suit was filed. Yet Bell proceeded to trial seeking $150,000 in statutory damages on scant evidence of willful infringement,” Judge James Sweeney writes.

‘Improper’ Motive

The court correctly mentions that Bell has filed many lawsuits over the ‘skyline’ photograph. It also notes that other judges have mentioned that his motive appears to be to extract quick and easy settlements instead of protecting his copyrights.

“Here, the record similarly reflects that Bell used the threat of litigation costs to extract quick settlements,” Judge Sweeney writes, highlighting two letters where Bell threatened legal action and even higher costs if Carmen Commercial didn’t pay up.

bell threats

These settlement demands can be quite lucrative. They can reach 1,000 times the market value of an actual license, the court mentioned. The defendant, however, will always have costs, whether they choose to pay up or if the matter ends up in court.

$172,173 to Deter and Compensate

This means that defendants in these cases are at a disadvantage, so compensation for their costs, which are way higher than the initial settlement offer, is appropriate. Otherwise, it would be a hollow victory. At the same time, it should deter the attorney from filing similar lawsuits in the future.

In this case, Carmen Commercial calculated its costs to be $172,173, which the court deemed to be reasonable. While it wasn’t a quick and easy win for the real estate company, it’s certainly a big one.

As for that skyline photo which started this four-year legal battle, Carmen Commercial still uses that in its blog posts. With proper permission from the rightsholder, we presume.

A copy of Judge Sweeney’s order, denying a new trial and granting the motion for fees and costs, is available here (pdf)

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Spanish Piracy Giant ‘Megadede’ to Shut Down, Successors Queue Up | TorrentFreak

megadede logoSpain is an interesting country when it comes to piracy. On the one hand, it has one of the highest piracy rates worldwide, but there is no shortage of enforcement actions either.

In recent years there have been several criminal investigations into unauthorized IPTV streaming, torrent and streaming portals have been taken to court, and ISPs have been ordered to block pirate sites as well.

It appears that, despite all the legal pressure and threats, new pirate sites and services continue to appear online. Unlike in some other countries, these are often localized as well.

Names such as “Don Torrent,” “DivxTotaL,” and “Megadede” are relatively unknown in most parts of the world. However, in Spain, they are listed among the 100 most visited sites in the country, mixed in with major brands such as Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix.

Local Piracy Giant Megadede Shuts Down

This week one of these giants announced its demise. In a message posted on the site, Megadede.com’s operators write that they are “forced” to announce that the site shuts down within a week.

“The members of the team are forced to announce that in less than a week megadede will come to an end. We hope you have enjoyed this time with us and take the opportunity to download your lists. Thanks for everything #megabye.”

megadede-message

It’s not clear who forced the operators to take action, but it is possible that legal pressure played a role. Unlike many other streaming sites, Megadede required an account to view all content. It didn’t rely on search traffic but had a dedicated user base.

megadede lists

Megadede is one of the largest sites in Spain but has only been around for two years. It took over from Plusdede in 2018 after that site was ordered to shut down by the authorities. Plusdede, wasn’t unique either, as it was reportedly built based on the database of Pordede, which shut down after being hacked.

Takeover is an Option

While Megadede will soon be gone, there is room for a takeover of the domain name or even the entire project. In the site’s help and support section the operators write that they are willing to sell to a good bidder.

“If someone wants to buy the domain or the project, you can send an offer through the contact page. We will only answer offers that may interest us,” they write.

This means that Megadede may possibly continue under new ownership. However, there is no shortage of alternatives either. After the site announced its shutdown decision several competitors said they were ready to take over the traffic.

Some, including DivMax.com, even offered to enable support for Megadede user ‘playlists’ to enable a smooth transition.

“The DixMax administration welcomes you. Due to the recent closure of Megadede we invite you to meet and discover DixMax.com and all its applications available for free. Downloaded Megadede playlists will soon be added,” the site writes on Twitter.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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This Week In Music Commentary | Hypebot

In our commentary section this week, we considered whether record labels are still relevant, Spotify called on authorities to stop Apple’s new bundling, Van Morrison dropped some anti-lockdown “protest” songs,. Continue reading

The post This Week In Music Commentary appeared first on Hypebot.

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TuneIn Blocking Debacle: Bombing Internet Radio Back to the Stone Age | TorrentFreak

Radio SmashWhen it comes to copyright infringement matters, especially when that involves commercial players doing battle to prevent the wholesale spread of content, my basic position is that all is fair in love and war.

If a torrent site, IPTV provider or streaming platform has a specific role to distribute premium copyrighted content to the masses for profit, then they should expect a robust response. This is someone’s content and it should come as no surprise that powerful people will attempt to protect it.

Even if only quietly, all players in this space understand the rules. Every now and again, however, copyright enforcement can hit a nerve even with the most understanding and pragmatic among us. It can be particularly jarring when the end result amounts to a reduction in previously enjoyed freedoms when that should not be the case.

TuneIn Radio Index Deemed to Be Copyright-Infringing

For those out of the loop, during the past few days TuneIn radio, a major aggregator of streaming radio links already in existence on the web, took the decision to conduct widespread geo-blocking of content in the UK. This was due to a High Court order obtained by record labels Sony and Warner who successfully argued that the service essentially became a broadcaster when it offered links to a ‘new public’ in the UK.

Purely on a legal footing and based on existing case law in the UK and EU, the decision makes quite a lot of sense. When access to unlicensed content is facilitated to a new audience, whether delivered via Internet radio stations or other Internet-based platforms, that generally amounts to a breach of copyright law.

On the ground, however, we are already seeing that the effects can be much more profound. TuneIn’s decision to block access to a huge range of stations broadcasting content NOT owned by Sony or Warner shows that the chilling effect is already underway and sadly it’s only likely to get worse.

Be Warned: TuneIn is Not the Only Aggregator

Anyone with a hardware-based Internet radio in the UK will probably have been sold it on the premise that it provides access to between 20,000 and 40,000 stations from around the world. These devices are the modern-day equivalent of AM or even shortwave radio, allowing us to listen to broadcasts without borders, from the most diverse and secluded regions and covering a massive range of niche topics and cultures.

Thanks to the decision by the High Court, however, this access could soon be a distant memory.

Hardware receivers, (of which I own two excellent ones, both Revo) are completely useless on the Internet radio side without access to an external index of radio stations and their related URLs. These massive indexes are not colorful like the one provided by TuneIn but they are functionally similar. One can search by station name and other parameters such as genre or region. This type of curation was deemed unacceptable by the High Court in the TuneIn case.

The big question now, of course, is how long will these platforms be able to offer services to users in the UK without facing the same kind of pressure applied to TuneIn? How long before they too start censoring access to global stations on the basis that they might breach the rights of the two labels that brought the action against TuneIn in the UK?

As per the comment received by TorrentFreak this week from TuneIn, “Over the past several months, we have worked with broadcasters to confirm their licensing status, removing from our platform those radio stations whose licensing status we are unable to verify at this time.”

“Unable to verify at this time” does not mean absolutely unlicensed. Neither does it mean that all removed stations breached the rights of the labels. TuneIn appears to be erring on the side of caution because it’s terrified that under-blocking won’t get the job done and could leave it liable for copyright infringement.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Anyone can set up an Internet radio stream in minutes and broadcast content that is not licensed for use in the UK because it doesn’t need to be as it breaches nobody’s rights. How does one go about proving that status to an index like TuneIn? Proving you don’t need a license is much harder than simply having one to show.

The great charm of Internet radio is that it can be used to find fresh or unusual content that isn’t owned by major labels like Sony and Warner, largely because it’s not considered popular enough. In fact, platforms not broadcasting that type of content is a major plus for me personally as I have Spotify for that, should I need it.

So why were some of my favorite stations dedicated to promoting new artists and music who want to be promoted blocked by TuneIn this week in response to this lawsuit?

To draw a parallel, how would we feel if we turned on our regular radios to tune into a distant broadcast only to be greeted by a high-pitched tone put there to prevent us from listening? We wouldn’t accept that and it’s my opinion people shouldn’t accept this either – this is not exclusively about two labels’ rights.

In the 90s, when I spent quite a bit of time in Poland, I liked nothing better than to flick a hotel radio to AM to listen to a distant broadcast of what was then TalkRadio. Now, Polish citizens in the UK, who previously enjoyed a local channel from back home, face the prospect of it not being available in their second home via TuneIn, thanks to the fear of TuneIn breaching a High Court ruling.

The labels will argue this isn’t their problem, as any blocking only needs to be done when a station breaches their rights. And they would be completely correct. But their actions have led to this situation and now everyone has to suffer, regardless of whether their international listening habits were covered by the lawsuit or not. But there are other issues too.

Driving Pirate Radio Back Onto the Streets is a Bad Idea

With great power comes great responsibility and bombing Internet radio back to the stone age to protect the rights of the few is overkill and counterproductive.

Fully-blown pirate/unlicensed radio stations are of course illegal in most countries but they serve a purpose. They existed and exist to bring niche content to a wider public completely underserved by licensed operations.

In the 80s, for example, early dance, plus soul, reggae, and funk music weren’t broadcast on any legal station in the UK in any meaningful way, a gap that pirates like the then-illegal Kiss were happy to fill. And just look at the size of the market now, raking in countless millions for labels like Sony and Warner.

It took years for mainstream providers to catch up on these niches yet they’re still miles behind today if quality and quantity are considered. Bluntly, they don’t get involved until they see an audience because that’s where the money is. Pirate radio stations incubated those audiences and still do today.

Admittedly, broadcasting via traditional antenna was and is both illegal and potentially dangerous. In recent years, however, many of these broadcasts have been switched to the Internet, reducing airwave pollution while continuing to serve fans with niche content that licensed broadcasters couldn’t care less about. If this High Court ruling runs to its logical conclusion, aggregators will be too scared to index any of them.

That could be a way off, but the stage has been set. Big Music has the opportunity to step back now but history tells us that won’t be the case. Fortunately, where there’s a will there’s a way. Labels can tear up the radio ‘phonebook’ operated by TuneIn and their counterparts but they can’t block every station on the Internet, even though they’d probably like the power to.

The Future and What it May Hold

If a ruling can be obtained in the UK to compel geo-blocking of international stations, then it doesn’t seem far-fetched to conclude that decisions could be obtained elsewhere too.

How long before United States aggregators must block all UK-based stations? How long before listeners in the Netherlands are barred from content broadcast to German or French audiences? When will Canadians be prevented from enjoying content from their cousins south of the border? Could we even face a situation where stations based anywhere in the world are forcibly removed from aggregators for not respecting their geographic licensing regions?

It may sound alarmist, and hopefully it is, but what people might have to prepare for in a worst-case scenario is radio aggregators being treated like illegal torrent indexes that are either forced offline or made to persistently teeter on the edge of a lawsuit.

The stations themselves are still broadcasting of course but listeners will probably have to get used to finding them another way. It might be a good time to get familiar with how to do that right now, before it’s too late.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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TIKTOK LIVES! New Oracle, Walmart Deal Gets Trump ‘Blessing’ | Hypebot

TIKTOK LIVES! New Oracle, Walmart Deal Gets Trump ‘Blessing’

The U.S. has given tentative approval to a deal that will keep TikTok alive in the country.

“I have given the deal my blessing,” said President Donald Trump. “I approve the deal in concept.”

The US Commerce Department was set to restrict access to TikTok starting Sunday with a ban on new downloads. On Nov. 12th it said it would prohibit any company from offering internet hosting or content delivery networks to TikTok, effectively shutting it down in the country.

The New Deal

Under the new deal, U.S. tech giant Oracle and Walmart will form a new company called TikTok Global, headquartered in the U.S.

This appears to satisfy White House concerns over the security of American user data, even though ByteDance is reported to still hold a majority of the ownership.

MORE: US Bans TikTok, WeChat Downloads Sunday, Full Ban Nov. 12, TikTokers React [VIDEO]

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Bruce Houghton on 09/20/2020 in

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Express yourself: why Madonna wants to tell her own life story | The Guardian

“It’s essential to share the rollercoaster ride of my life with my voice and my vision,” Madonna said when it was announced by Universal Pictures that she will be co-writing and directing a biopic about her life. The star was annoyed back in 2017 when she heard that Blonde Ambition, a screenplay about her early years in New York, was in development. “Nobody knows what I know and what I have seen,” she posted on Instagram. “Only I can tell my story.”

Now just turned 62, she is feeling reflective and ready to tell it, with a promising team of women behind her. Producer Amy Pascal for instance, whose credits include Oscar-nominated The Post and Little Women, and Donna Langley, chairperson of Universal Pictures and a key mentor for women in the film industry, who says that the biopic will present “the unvarnished story” of Madonna’s struggle as an artist trying to survive in a man’s world.

Madonna also has a gifted co-writer in Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult). All the ingredients are there for a strong, female-driven feminist film about Madonna’s place at the centre of the 1980s pop industry, but recent posts on Twitter suggest she is having problems knuckling down.

Madonna, New York, autumn 1978. Photograph: Michael McDonnell/Getty Images

Since August, she has posted regular updates of scriptwriting sessions with Cody – or rather Madonna lolls around on a gigantic white sofa cracking jokes while Cody sits with her laptop looking partly bemused, partly exasperated. Every so often Madonna asks key questions – “do we want to freak people out or be more accessible?”, “will the studios love it?” And perhaps the most pressing issue of all, “it’s going to be very challenging to cast this”.

Madonna’s nervousness is understandable – making a biopic about one’s life is a risky business. How much of her “unvarnished truth” is palatable, and how far is she prepared to go?

Biopics are an excellent way to sell an artist’s back catalogue, but if they are to be anything more than a sanitised jukebox musical, they need to capture the musician’s struggle and the essence of the scene that created them. Elton John was involved with Rocket Man, the 2019 biopic about his early years, and fought hard for the drugs references and gay male sex scenes to be included, saying:“I haven’t led a PG-13 life.”

The movie was well-received, but John kept his distance during filming (“I felt it would be uncomfortable for everyone to have the person the film was about lurking around,” he said). Tina Turner, likewise, rarely came to the set of What’s Love Got To Do With It, the 1993 biopic about her life starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, but afterwards felt ambivalent, saying she had been portrayed as a victim.

Madonna on her Blonde Ambition tour in Philadelphia, 1990. Photograph: Sean Kardon/AP

Madonna, by contrast, is doing the opposite. It has always been important for her to control her career and her mediation, and there is an autobiographical thread throughout her songwriting, so it’s not surprising that she wants to direct her own biopic. She also has directing experience, albeit with the mixed results of 2008’s Filth and Wisdom, and the 2011 historical drama WE. The challenge for her will be in letting go. Film-maker Carney James Turner recalls shooting an interview with her in 2014 for MTV Europe, saying she wanted to control everything – “the framing, her makeup, her facial expressions, the lighting. She’s a very strong lady with meticulous attention to detail. I’ve never encountered that before, not even with the Queen, who I shot at Buckingham Palace for a Duke of Edinburgh charity. The Queen was laidback compared to Madonna. It will be great if Madonna can trust the editorial process and the people around her, and let things run free.”

Another challenge for Madonna will be in choosing the stories she wants to tell, and how much of the chaotic energy and vulnerability of her early life she needs to portray. Then, as a director, how much freedom she will give the actress playing her. Fans will want to see the struggles and disappointments, and how Madonna found the strength to overcome those lousy moments.

In her famous 2016 Billboard Woman of The Year award speech, she anticipated the MeToo campaign by saying, face pale and eyes full of pain: “I stand before you as a doormat.” She spoke about being raped on a rooftop not long after she moved to New York, and of “constant bullying and relentless abuse” throughout her 30-year career, particularly after the publication of her erotic Sex book in 1992. “I was called a ‘whore’ and a ‘witch’. This was the first time I truly understood that women really do not have the same freedom as men,” she said.

Madonna sees herself as a survivor, as an artist who is here to “disturb the peace”. Some of her strongest work rides that faultline of artistic tension and commerce, particularly in her live shows, where past hits are reimagined with imaginative critique. One of her most powerful pieces was the X-STaTIC PRO=CeSS installation she created with photographer Steven Klein at the Deitch Projects in New York in 2003. It features film of an inspired moment of deconstruction. A pristine white wedding dress, like the one in her Like a Virgin video, sits on a tailor’s dummy. The dress is set alight and gradually devoured by flames, until there is nothing left but charred, blackened fragments of lace. Copyright on the entire exhibit was credited to Boy Toy Inc, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the 80s persona that she cheerfully destroyed.

I’m not suggesting that Madonna’s biopic will be as confrontational, but if she allows herself, she could create something surprising. That is, if she lets the elemental truth of that “untold story” resonate and fully emerge. That will require some nerve.

Lucy O’Brien is the author of Madonna: Like An Icon

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Saturday, September 19, 2020

YouTube Rippers ‘Flvto’ and ‘2Conv’ Will Take Legal Battle to US Supreme Court | TorrentFreak

In 2018, a group of prominent record labels sued two very popular YouTube rippers, FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com.

The labels, including Universal, Warner Bros, and Sony, accused the sites of copyright infringement and hoped to quickly shut them down.

That didn’t go as expected. The owner of the sites, a Russian man named Tofig Kurbanov, lawyered up and fought back. Before the copyright issues were even discussed in court, the complaint was already dismissed.

A Battle over Jurisdiction

A Virginia federal court ruled that the music companies lacked personal jurisdiction. The sites were operated from abroad and didn’t ‘purposefully’ target or interact with US users, it concluded.

This finding was not without controversy. The music companies disagreed and appealed the matter at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which sent the case back to the district court a few months ago.

The appeals court found that there are more than sufficient facts to conclude that Kurbanov purposefully conducted business in the US, specifically, the state of Virginia. Kurbanov and his legal team disagreed but their request for a rehearing was denied.

Going to the Supreme Court

Faced with this decision, which could potentially affect many other websites operated outside the United States, the owner of FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com has decided to petition the Supreme Court to take on the case.

The petition is expected to be filed later this month, but the plans were revealed this week. In a motion submitted at a Virginia federal, Kurbanov asks to put the district court case on hold until the Supreme Court has had a chance to rule on it.

The question that will be put to the Supreme Court is whether Kurbanov can be subjected to the jurisdiction of a US federal court when he lives in Russia, operates his sites from there, and doesn’t specifically target US citizens.

According to his legal team, the appeal court’s decision contradicts other rulings in similar cases. As such, they are confident that they have a strong case.

“In the present case, there is little question but that Mr. Kurbanov’s jurisdictional challenge could be rationally resolved in his favor – indeed, this Court did resolve the issue in Mr. Kurbanov’s favor,” they write.

“Viewed in the context of the Supreme Court’s traditional jurisprudence, however, it appears clear that this Court’s original dismissal of the present case was proper and that – given the opportunity – the Supreme Court would reinstate that dismissal.”

Staying the Case Until Further Order

If the district court case was allowed to continue while the Supreme Court is looking into the matter it would be a waste of resources. Kurbanov, therefore, is requesting that the discovery process and other proceedings are placed on hold for now.

“Mr. Kurbanov, a Russian national and citizen, who has never set foot in the United States, has a right to challenge this Court’s exercise of jurisdiction over him as violative of the Due Process Clause. And, of course, with that comes his right to be free from the expensive and onerous discovery obligations inherent in U.S. litigation.”

Aside from the Supreme Court decision, the lawyers also remind the district court that the original motion to dismiss is still in play. The court initially chose not to conduct a “reasonability test” because the other arguments were sufficient to warrant a dismissal. That changed when the appeal overturned that decision.

As such, Kurbanov’s legal team has filed a request to stay the case until the reasonability analysis is finalized and the Supreme Court has had its say.

kurbanov stay case

A copy of Tofig Kurbanov’s memorandum in support of the motion to stay the federal court proceeding pending the outcome of the Supreme Court matter is available here (pdf)

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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