27 March, 2018

Boxed Up - Sharing of Software Add-ons Online is Copyright Infringement in Canada

The enforcement of copyright is never easy, particularly in today's world where access to infringing files, streaming websites and other means is almost as easy as simply searching for today's news. As infringers and suppliers of infringing materials become more and more sophisticated and clever, rightsholders have to pursue a wide array of cases of infringement. While direct infringement is often very easily determined, the facilitation of infringement by third-parties is always a tricky question (discussed more on this blog here and here). The Canadian Court of Appeal had to recently discuss this point in a very interesting decision.

The case of Bell Canada v Adam Lackman concerned the sharing of software add-ons on the website "TVAddons", operated by Mr Lackman. The KODI media player is an open source piece of software that enables the play of various types of multimedia. Various types of infringing content can be accessed using the media player when certain add-ons are added to it, which allow it to access and stream content hosted on the Internet; many of which were shared on the TVAddons website. Another piece of software was shared on the site called "FreeTelly", a modified version of KODI that allows a user to access infringing materials, and instructions on the installation and use of add-ons. Bell Canada objected to the potentially infringing materials shared on the website shared on the website and sued Mr Lackman for copyright infringement.

The case concerned an Anton Pillar order (discussed in more depth here), and whether the judge at first instance erred in their judgment on the order's standards' application to the facts at hand. The appellant argued that the court had mischaracterised their activities as infringing (when only a small number of add-ons were infringing), and therefore misapplied section 2.4 of the Canadian Copyright Act that deals with communication to the public.

The Court agreed that the judge at first instance had mischaracterised the activities of Mr Lackman (and TVAddons), and that they misunderstood the nature of their activities. Only 16 of 22 'Features' add-ons were tested, which doesn't even scratch the surface when over 1,500 add-ons are provided on the site. Similarly, the appellant's website, calling it a 'mini Google', when the provision of add-ons simply facilitated a quicker, more direct form of infringement by avoiding adds and providing easy access to links.

Having misunderstood the above, the judge had therefore also misapplied the law in relation to communication to the public. The Court considered that Mr Lackman, contrary to the decision at first instance, had communicated the works to the public, as "…the respondent’s website is not content neutral as it targets copyrighted content" by providing access to add-ons that are designed to provide unauthorized access to motion pictures and on-demand and/or live television programming. Having these add-ons, according to the Court, is akin to "…providing embedded links or automatically precipitating a path to copyrighted content". The same applies to programs that either aid in the installation of add-ons, or have pre-installed add-ons already to do the same.

In the light of the above the Court determined that the operation of the site clearly would not fall under the mere conduit exemption, but facilitates access to infringing materials. The site's branding also clearly encourages and highlights the site's purpose for the infringement of copyright through the add-ons, which additionally demonstrates clear knowledge by Mr Lackman of the hosted material.

The Court drew a parallel to the sale of pre-loaded set-top boxes in Bell Canada v iTVBox.net that allowed the user to access, for free, copyright protected content online. What is interested is that the ultimate source for the add-ons for the set-top boxes was TVAddons. As with the set-top boxes, the site would not be acting as a mere conduit, but a facilitator for the infringement of Bell Canada's rights.

Ultimately the Court did conclude that the judge at first instance erred in their decision and that Bell Canada would have a strong prima facie case for copyright infringement. Following the determination of likely copyright infringement, the Court also issued an injunction against TVAddons.

While the case's main focus was not the legal argumentation around copyright infringement, it still sets an interesting, a continuing precedent, where the Canadian courts are very likely to prevent the sharing of content online that facilitates infringement. This clearly now includes both hardware and software.

Source: Barry Sookman

21 March, 2018

Eyes Wide Shut - Sharing of TV Clips Online by TVEyes not Fair Use, Says US Court of Appeals

Fair use is a tricky issue, and often a thorn on the side of copyright owners. Overall one can appreciate the opportunities it creates, but also the headaches faced by those wishing to pursue someone hiding behind that particular shield. Rightsholders have been holding out for a life-line to narrow down the reach of fair use, and might've just been rewarded a win in the wider balancing act of fair use versus infringement. The matter was faced by the Court of Appeals recently, who issued their decision on the appeal in late February.

The case of Fox News Network LLC v TVEyes Inc. concerned the sharing of segments from TV programming by TVEyes. This is done through the continuous recording of TV shows, and compiling them into a searchable database. Users of TVEyes could then search for clips from various programmes, and watch up to 10 minutes of the content that interests them (and has been used by journalists and TV producers for some time). Clips can also be archived onto TVEyes' servers, or downloaded onto the user's computer. Fox ultimately took TVEyes to court for copyright infringement through the redistribution of their audiovisual content.

The case turned on whether the use by TVEyes could be classed as 'fair use' under 17 USC section 107. This looks at the usual four factors: (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. The factors are assessed weighted together in the light of the purpose of copyright.

Under the first factors, the Court focussed on the precedent set by the Google Books case (discussed more here). In the matter, Google's book search service added something new to the rights attached to the written works, and therefore "…communicated something new and different from the original". Similarly to TVEyes' offering, the showing of snippets from each book "…added important value to the basic transformative search function" by allowing for the user to verify the information as being what was looked for.

Some TV clips are simply captivating
The Court concluded that, in the light of the first factor, TVEyes' service "…is similarly transformative insofar as it enables users to isolate, from an ocean of programming, material that is responsive to their interests and needs, and to access that material with targeted precision". The service saves on costs and time spent looking for materials should they be done without a quick search function. Even though the service was for commercial gain, it still was not enough to counter its transformative nature entirely. Ultimately this means that the first factor slightly weighs in favor of fair use.

In terms of the second factor, the Court swiftly concluded that it is inconsequential to this case, even if the subject matter of the works is reporting on factual events.

They then moved onto the third factor, which looks at the amount of the work copied, and whether it was substantial. The Court quickly concluded that, due to the sheer volume of material copied by TVEyes, which amounted to virtually the entirety of Fox's TV programming. When compared to Google Books, TVEyes often created copies of entire segments of programming that might cover all of the relevant material being sought, whereas Google actively blacklisted certain parts of text within search results to prevent this. This amounted to copying all that is important from the protected works, and weighed against fair use.

Finally, the Court looked at the service's effect on the potential market for or value of the works, particularly whether it competes with the original service. Due to the popularity of the service, there clearly was a marketplace for such services that was exploitable by Fox. This would have impacted any hypothetical monies made by Fox should they have offered the service, particularly in the light of unauthorized, unlicensed copying by TVEyes. This means that "…by selling access to Fox's audiovisual content without a license, TVEyes deprives Fox of revenues to which Fox is entitled as the copyright holder", which meant that the fourth factor also favored Fox.

Having considered the above, the Court had to determine whether, all factors considered, the use was fair use or not. The conclusion of this was that TVEyes' service was not justifiable under fair use, due to the sheer amount of works copied and the usurping of a function for which Fox was entitled to demand compensation for, even though the service was slightly transformative.

TVEyes was deemed to be liable for direct infringement of Fox's rights, and the Court imposed a permanent injunction on their services on allowing the viewing, downloading and sharing of clips from the site. The search function, however, was allowed to continue.

The case is a very interesting one, and sets clear boundaries for services similar to the one offered by TVEyes. Should the clips have been restricted to much shorter segments, and not allowed to be downloaded or shared, the company might have escaped liability. Other video service providers will undoubtedly heed this as a warning against any significant sharing of content.

Source: JDSupra