Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pinterest Dodges Copyright Infringement Charges

It seems that as soon as you become marginally successful on the Internet, you are accused of copyright infringement. So too with Pinterest.

Pinterest has become all the rage
If you don't know, Pinterest is the clever little service that allows you to freely surf the Internet, and if you come across an interesting picture or image, you can "pin it" to your Pinterest board. What this means is that a thumbnail of that image is created on a virtual Pinterest bulletin board with a link back to the original image. This gives you a tidy little place where you can keep track of all those pictures and images that you like so you can easily go back to them. You know how frustrating it is to try and go back to find that one cool picture or clever saying that you remember seeing last week? Pinterest solves that.
And that's not all it does. If you associate your Pinterest account with your Facebook account, all your Facebook friends can see your boards and follow the things you pin. This creates a really interesting way for each other to share cool pictures and ideas. Lots of folks pin exercise motivational pictures and cute quotes.
I'll go out on a limb here and say there really wasn't anything quite like Pinterest before, and there really should have been. Pinterest is the perfect use of the Web to share thoughts and ideas. And I think that's the secret of Pinterest's success. And as with all things that are Internet-successful, Pinterest is being accused of copyright infringement.
Why copyright infringement? The cynical side of me says just because they are successful. The objective side of me says it's because Pinterest allows users to make little thumbnail copies of copyrighted works. To their credit, Pinterest is taking active steps to avoid actual claims of copyright infringement rather than allegations. For instance, Pinterest has an active DMCA takedown policy available to copyright owners. Pinterest are also trying to roll out a Pinterest meta tag that Web sites can use to prevent pinning the site's content. These are good things. Pinterest's CEO says they don't have a copyright problem yet, just an issue.
For my part, I think it's inevitable that Pinterest will be charged with copyright infringement if for no other reason because they are successful. But to me, the flip side is Pinterest's success will undoubtedly spawn a host of copycats. I have said it numerous times, as soon as a company stumbles on the magic formula for software success, others try to steal that magic formula. So just as Pinterest should keep building walls to ward off those copyright infringement claims, so too it should be loading its quiver with some ammunition against the inevitable infringement of its own copyrights. Copyright protection is a two-way street.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fraserside Awarded $4 Million Against

Judges are clearly of two different minds when it comes to copyright infringement and culpability. For example, consider these two recent cases that are similar on the facts, but have very different outcomes.
K-Beech, Inc. v. Schreiber and Valdez, et al.
In this case, K-Beech sued several people for copyright infringement of a small number of porn movies, I believe for downloading and uploading them. Two of the defendants (Schreiber and Valdez) just didn't answer the complaint. Judge Wake entered a default judgment against those two defendants for the minimum statutory damages amount of $750 per work for a total damage award of $1500. The good folks over at wrote a great little piece about how such a small damages award jeopardizes the entire copyright plaintiff business model.
Fraserside v Faragalla
In this case, an IP holding company that owned the copyrights for some porn movies sued a couple of people who operated a free porn website ( for streaming those movies. The defendants chose not to answer the complaint and instead just ignored it. Judge Bennett clearly had a different view of what it took to punish this type of conduct. He entered default judgment in the maximum amount of statutory damages and threw the book at the Faragallas in the amount of $4 Million! Holy cow! The porn industry is understandably very excited by this win.
What's the lesson here? You never know what will happen to you if you just ignore a complaint that gets filed against you. Maybe you get the minimum, like Schreiber and Valdez, and maybe you get the maximum, like the Faragallas. So if you get served with papers, hire a lawyer! Don't just ignore it because sometimes those nagging little problems go away, but sometimes they turn into huge problems.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Software Copyrights Keep Gaining Steam: Spry Foxx Sues 6Waves

Local Seattle game developer Spry Foxx has sued 6waves for software copyright infringement based on 6waves's knock-off of Spry Foxx's hit game Triple Town. Good for Spry Foxx.Spry Fox sues 6waves for software copyright infringement
Triple Town is shown on the left, and the 6waves knock-off on the right. There are definitely similarities, although to my eye not as many as the Vostu knock-off of the Zynga Cafe World game. But it's hard to do a real side-by-side comparison of two complete games with just the still screen captures from the Spry Foxx complaint. But still, the rest of the story fills in the blanks and leads me to believe that this is more than even a simple knock-off, but an overt act of corporate espionage.
Turns out, Spry Foxx and 6waves were in active, confidential negotiations for a deal that would see 6waves publish Spry Foxx's Triple Town game. Then, out of nowhere, 6waves pulls out of the deal and publishes its own version. During the negotiations, 6waves had access to Spry Foxx's code and everything under the hood. In the words of Spry Foxx's CEO David Edery, what 6waves did was "profoundly unethical by any measure." I agree.
6waves denies any wrongdoing. Of course they do. What else are they going to say: "Dang, we were hoping you wouldn't notice that"? It is important to note that Rex Ng, CEO of 6waves, only denies that they violated the terms of the NDA. He does not deny (or at least I haven't seen it) that 6waves knocked-off Spry Foxx's game.
So here we are. A small game developer comes up with the magic formula for a hot game. Shortly thereafter, a much larger game developer knocks it off, competing against the smaller developer with their own game. Does anyone still not believe that this is exactly the kind of copying that software copyrights are intended to prevent?