Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Back in the USSA

Interesting snippet from Computing Weekly

"The proposed sale of 3Com to Bain Capital Partners and China's Huawei Technologies has drawn the attention of U.S. lawmakers because it involves sensitive security technology.

Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to block the acquisition of 3Com by Bain Capital Partners and affiliates of Huawei Technologies of China.

Earlier in October, the two companies entered into a definitive merger agreement that set a price of £1.1bn for 3Com."

What eez zees "sensitive security technology", you ask? Well Pangloss of course knows nothing, but one suggestion is that 3Com own Tipping Point - who happen to be one of a very select handful of companies in the world peddling a certain trade - they buy and sell zero day exploits - potentially disastrous software vulnerabilities.

And word on the street as it that the US has been a bit touchy about the idea of a company like that coming under potential Chinese state er influence - especially since the reports earlier this year of Chinese attacks on the Pentagon.

Nice to have a bit of gossip in with the cyberlaw huh?

Web 2.0 liability hits Europe - delete those borrowed cartoons fast, folks..

Rather more sensibly, via my dear colleague Judith Rauhofer.. interesting case reports of two summer French decisions on Web 2.0 liability, summarised by Bird and Bird in their EU IT law bulletin. I have been meaning to note these, so am indebted to both sources.


In the first decision, on 22 June 2007, a French humorist successfully sued MySpace before the Paris first instance tribunal for infringement of his author’s rights and personality rights, as his name, image and some of his sketches were published on a MySpace webpage without his authorisation.

The court found that MySpace performed the role of an Internet host. However it also did other things: it provided "a presentation structure with frames, which is made available to its members" and significantly, it also "broadcasts advertising upon each visit of the webpage, from which it profits".

As a result MySpace did not benefit from the hosting immunity of the EC Electronic Commerce Directive, Art 14 , implemented in Article 6.I.2 of the French law “on Confidence in the Digital Economy” (dated 21st June 2004) . The French law provides that a hosting provider:

may not be held civilly liable for the activities or information stored at the request of a recipient of these services if they are effectively unaware of the illegal nature thereof or of the facts and circumstances revealing this illegality or if, as soon as they become aware of them, they have acted promptly to remove these data or make access to them impossible"

MySpace were however deemed not a host but a "publisher". Lacking immunity, MySpace were thus ordered to pay substantial damages.


The second decision concerns Dailymotion, who appear to be a kind of You Tube equivalent site.

In April 2007, the director and the producer of a French film entitled “Joyeux Noel” sued Dailymotion on the ground of copyright infringement, because their film could be viewed on Dailymotion’s website.

In a decision dated 13 July 2007, the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris ruled that Dailymotion, although classed as a hosting provider, under the French law quoted above, was still liable for providing internet users with the means to commit copyright infringement.

On the plus side for Dailymotion, the court agreed that it was a hosting provider, and so in principle entitled to the immunity above. This was so even though it operated a commercial activity supported by advertising revenues - factors which had lead earlier French courts (as in the MySpace case, above) to declare sites like Dailymotion, not hosts , but "publishers".

On the down side however, the court held that DM

"had still acted unlawfully in providing internet users with the means to commit copyright infringement. Indeed, the Tribunal de Grande Instance considered that the success of Dailymotion’s website depended upon the broadcast of famous works because, according to the judge, these works captured larger audiences and ensured greater advertising revenues. Moreover, the court specified that even if there is no general obligation for hosting providers to actively seek out illegal activities, this limitation does not apply where these activities are created or induced by the provider."

The Bird and Bird report also suggests the court found that DM were "necessarily aware" of the copyright infringing material on their site.

As a result the court appears to have found that DM should have exerted prior restraint on giving access to copyright infringing works - in other words, installed effective filtering tools. Since they had not, they were liable. DM has appealed.

Pangloss sez

The Bird and Bird commentaries by (one asumes) French lawyers, suggest that the two cases are incompatible. This is formally true, in that MySpace were found to be a publisher, while DM was, it seems , not.

However from a UK/ECD perspective the two cases can be seen as pretty much on all fours at least as relating to liability and immunity. ECD Art 14 immunity from civil law liability requires three elements
  • being a host
  • not having actual notice (or taking down on receiving such notice)
  • not having constructive notice (awareness of fact and circumstances such that they should have known copyright infringement was going on)(or take down as above)
Whether this analysis makes Daily Motion and MySpace "hosts", who nonetheless fail to gain immunity because of having constructive notice; or not hosts at all, but "publishers" , seems to Pangloss to not be of the essence (though no doubt the French do not feel that way).

The real and very exciting or worrying aspects of the case (depending on whether you are a content industry maven or a web 2.0 entrepeneur) are two fold.

First, these are judgments on the interpretation of a transposition of Art 14 of the ECD which seem to indicate (as Pangloss has suspected for some while) that a European court - perhaps even a UK court - would take one look at the My Space/You Tube etc business model, and fail to apply hosting immunity to them.

It seems more and more unreasonable that these sites' business model should be built around content much of which is clearly known to be infringing, and that they nonetheless escape all liability because that content was provided by third parties. This model was reasonable when applied to ISPs in the old days, who genuinely had little or no financial interest in what their users stuck on their server as long as it wasn't virus-ridden - it is not when applied to Web 2.0 and the user generated content business model.

Since these sites undoubtedly do perform a function as Internet hosts (tho quare how significant the streaming vs downloading model is here) a court thinking as above has to find a way to disapply the hosting immunity. And that way is via constructive knowledge - "they should have known".

Second and perhaps even more important, is the suggestion of the Dailymotion court that DM's knowledge or awareness was such that anti-infringement filters should have been installed.

This is now becoming familar as a remedy that has been ordered in P2P infringement cases: in the US in the Grokster case, and in Australia in the Kazaa case. But as many commentators have noted, in Europe, it seems to fly in the face of the ECD Art 15 injunction that service providers (including hosts and ISPs) cannot have obligations of prior active monitoring imposed on them.

The Dailymotion court was not unaware of this : the Bird and Bird report says that

"the court specified that even if there is no general obligation for hosting providers to actively seek out illegal activities, this limitation does not apply where these activities are created or induced by the provider." [Pangloss's bold added]

Leaving aside translational coincidences, this also has a ring of familiarity. In Grokster, the US Supreme Court, unlike the Court of Appeals, decided effectively that a Sony defense of "capable of substantial non infringing use" , even where there was no actual knowledge of infringement by the site, could not stand as a complete defence where there was out and out inducement of copyright infringement by the site. Thus Grokster was eventually found liable.

So where does this leave us in the UK? Interestingly, Art 15 was never transposed into UK law. This leaves it potentially even more open to the UK courts to come up with a formulation such as the French court did in Dailymotion. That leaves the normative question : should a finding of constructive knowledge also entitle a court to run against the clear words of the ECD in Article 15?

Clearly copyright owners would rather have proactive filtering than retrospect damages. But they want something even more: a share of the cake. The whole argument may thus soon become moot. As heavily covered on this blog, perhaps the technologically leading web 2.0 site, You Tube, has finally rolled its out long awaited copyright content filtering solution, Video Identification (RIP Claim Your Content?)

Instead of suing You Tube, or endlessly issuing take down notices, copyright owners can now ask YT to put their works onto its proactive filter database, or better still, leave its copyright content available on the YT site, but ask for a share of the revenue from the ads surrounding it.

The possible demise of Art 15 leaves other worries however. The UK government has been dropping hints hither and thither about imposing general obligations on ISPs in the UK to filter out everything from child porn, to terrorist material, to P2P traffic. If Art 15 is to be interpreted out of existence - or quietly ignored - there will be nothing to stop this. And although Google and You Tube may have come up with a tentative solution which may work for them (it is not yet tested) , there is no real evidence that rolling out large scale filters at ISP level is either technically feasible, or constitutionally desirable.

Let's face it, the law on hosting liability, as Trev Callaghan of Google put in the summer, is simply broken. It is time to reconsider everything in the upcoming review of the ECD.

In fact I very much doubt we will see a root and branch re-analysis. But that is clearly what is needed if Web 2.0 is not to entirely founder in Europe.

These Newfangled Tubes of Yours

Or, posting from my sick bed, YET AGAIN. Grumf.

Colleagues have recently brought to my attention this delightful video which is a parody by some colonial types of the case Donoghue v Stevenson put to the backing of the Police's Message in a Bottle (a popular beat combo, m'lud.)

Which inspired thoughts elsewhere of what other famous cases could be set to songs. Bolam v Friern Hospital, eg, could be set to "Doctor, Doctor" by the Thompson Twins. And the Microsoft anti-competition case could rather roughly be transcribed as "I Want My MTV",

Any better suggestions?


Monday, October 22, 2007

UK Linking Site Closed Down

An interesting if rather sketchy report from The Guardian that UK-based TV Links site has been closed down after a raid by a combination of Trading Standards officials, Gloucester police and FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft). The question is what were the grounds? The report says merely that

""Sites such as TV Links contribute to and profit from copyright infringement by identifying, posting, organising, and indexing links to infringing content found on the internet that users can then view on demand by visiting these illegal sites," said a spokesman for Fact. "

The case is interesting because TV Links site is an ordinary website giving links to content which constituted (in some cases) infringing copies of copyright works eg Dr Who, Buffy et al. The site is not a host nor is it obviously "inciting" or "inducing" users to infringe as say Kazaa/Grokster did. It could be argued in fact that it does little more than what Google routinely does - makes links available to infringing copies and leaves the user to decide what to do next.

The most obvious ground of copyright infringement would be authorisation of infringement under s 16(2) of the CDPA 88 - but the UK courts have not been entirely keen on expanding the interpretation of this phrase - see CBS v Amstrad ([1988] 2 All ER 484 . The nearest we have in UK case law is the very early discussion of a link made by one newspaper (Shetland News) to another's headline stories (Shetland Times) which were "passed off" as its own - but even that case only reached the stage of interim interdict (Injunction for you Southerners :) and was based on law about cable progranmmes which has since been amended.

Interestingly also, the E Commerce Directive does NOT currently exempt even "innocent" sites from liability for hyperlinking - an issue which was raised but left unchanged in a UK DTI review a year or so back. The issue may be reconsidered during the upcoming revision of the ECD. Of course it might well be claimed that a site like TV LInks had at least constructive if not actual notice that it was linking to infringing material .

Another interesting point is that some of the materials linked to - British BBC TV progs of recent vintage, like Dr Who - are probably freely available under the new BBC iPlayer distribiution scheme. Is there not something inconsistent in terms of policy, if not law, in encouraging viewers to download copies by one legal means, but raid and close down other parties who provide the same material in a more user friendly (ie not DRM-locked) form?

Of course it is possible the raid was conducted under criminal law grounds other than copyright law at all. One suggestion Pangloss has heard is that there may have been money laundering offences attached to organised crime involved. It would be good to hear more details on this case soon. (It has considerable implications for the UK liability of BitTOrrent torrent sites as well.)

EDIT: the Guardian, clearly pleased with their scoop, has already blogged it :

EDIT 2: and the beat goes on.. a lovely example of the Internet routing around "damage" - .

While others take flight driven by the uncertainty of the legal liability for linking -

IPKat also now has comment. AS does FACT. And Struan Robertson of OUTLAW writing in the Register is as bemused as Pangloss is.
"We don't have a simple offence of facilitating infringement in the UK," he told us. "Though we do have offences concerned with distributing or offering infringing copies or communicating works to the public... to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright. The maximum penalty is 10 years. However, I've never heard of links being characterised in this way in a British court."

EDIT THE FINAL: And then it turned out that they were actually being sued for trademark infringement!! Good grief.. Full coverage on Lex Ferenda, Technollama et al.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

ILAWS launch

ILAWS is now duely launched, and even hads a fair wind, appropriate metaphors for a maritime city like Suthampton; we broke bubbly on its virtual hull, courtesy of our very generous sponsors Thomas Eggar, after hearing a marvellous lecture from the indomitable Chris Reed on "Doing Business Online" which managed to combine invaluable practical advice (eg don't change planes at New York airport if you're running an online gambling firm) with serious academic speculation (will on-line virtual worlds be governed wholly by contracts imposed by the world-owners or will the evolving norms of the communities that live here have to have a say too?)

A podcast will be up soon on the ILAWS and TE sites.

Thanks go to Chris and Thomas Eggar of course, but also to the many people who helped within the law school, including my colleagues in ILAWS Caroline Wilson and Stephen Saxby, and to those who came to form an enthusiastic audience. I hope ILAWS can work with some of you in the future.

Reports already up at

Meanwhile as a result of Googling ILAWS reports, Pangloss has discovered a UK law blog aggreagator called Infolaw - how handy! - at

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

I Knew Him Before he Was Famous :)

I've known Charlie Stross for around twenty mumble years, back since he lived in Leeds, was resolutely trying to start a writing career, and trying to sell short stories in the pub to my then boyfriend.

Nowadays he lives in Edinburgh, is a multi award winning prolific sf novelist and gets reported in evangelical tones in Boing Boing like this.

Wow time flies :)

I now have to admit publicly that I've never actually read any of Charlie's novels - hard post-Singularity sf is not quite my thing - but this one looks so relevant to some of my current lines of research that I may have to read it just to use as a class text :)

Post GikII sensible service resumes shortly!