LOS ANGELES—FilmOn.com founder Alki David really hates CBS. Any doubt of his utter contempt for the company can be quickly dispelled by a visit to the “cbsyousuck” page on FilmOn.com that explains why “the duplicity of CBS beggars belief.”
In fact, David hates Viacom/CBS so much that he brought together a group of music artists to sue the company today in Los Angeles. The accusation is that CBS, through its CBS Interactive subsidiaries CNET.com and Download.com, profited from the downloading of huge numbers of copies of LimeWire peer-to-peer file-sharing software through its sites, ultimately accounting for over 95 percent of all LimeWire downloads. The plaintiffs include Alki as well as a consortium of music artists, among them Detron Bendross of 2 Live Crew, Rome, Diamond Blue of Pretty Ricky, Trisco Smith from Force MDs and Coldhard representing Crucial Conflict.
The group, which alleges that more than 220 million copies of LimeWire have been downloaded from CBS sites since 2008, sent a statement to Billboard.biz Wednesday that stated, “CBS Interactive and CNET have acted as the main distributor of LimeWire software and have promoted this and other P2P systems to profit from wide-scale copyright infringement.”
The gist of the complaint against CBS is not just that the software was made available—which is in and of itself not an illegal act—but that CNET editors actually encouraged the use of LimeWire to illegally download copyrighted content. Another plaintiff in the suit, YouTube commentator Mike Mozart, has “documented in detail … CNET's participation in copyright piracy on an enormous scale,” according to a prepared statement issued Wednesday by FilmOn.com.
LimeWire came to an ignominious end last year after a U.S. District Court judge granted summary judgment on three key issues—inducement of copyright infringement, common law copyright infringement and unfair competition—in a four-year-old lawsuit brought against it by a group of 13 record companies. In its statement, FilmOn also accused CNET of distributing 32 million downloads of a peer-to-peer software program called FrostWire. The insinuation, of course, is that CBS/CNET/Download.com are habitual aiders and abettors of massive global copyright infringement. The announcement calls on more artists to join the lawsuit.
CBS is not buying the argument, and in a statement sent to Billboard.biz Wednesday all but said that David’s lawsuit is tit-for-tat posturing after FilmOn.com was slapped with an injunction last year in a lawsuit brought by a group of television studios that included CBS.
"CBS and a host of other media companies were awarded a court ordered injunction against one of Alki David's companies last year with respect to that company's improper use of copyrighted content,” the statement read. “This latest move by Mr. David is a desperate attempt to distract copyright holders like us from continuing our rightful claims. His lawsuit against CBS affiliates is riddled with inaccuracies, and we are confident that we will prevail, just as we did in the injunction hearing involving his company."
In their complaint against FilmOn.com, filed Oct. 2010 in New York, the television stations claimed, “At least as early as Sept. 27, 2010, defendant has been streaming over the internet, to subscribers located at least throughout the Unites States, numerous broadcast television stations and the copyrighted programming on those stations—all without the consent of the affected stations or copyright owners. … The purpose of this action is to restrain defendants from exploiting without exploitation, and violating plaintiff’s rights in, some of the most valuable intellectual property created in the United States.”
Wednesday’s filing by David has to be seen as at the very least an attempt to label CBS a hypocrite, but it is a blade that could easily be used against him, as well. The many ironies are not lost on ArsTechnica.com’s Nate Anderson, who called today’s lawsuit a “bizarre mishmash of conflicting loyalties.”
For interested observers, the situation only reinforces the inescapable reality that there is nothing simple about the current digital environment, and that almost anyone can be legitimately accused of being a pirate or profiting from piracy. It is also highly doubtful that the David lawsuit will add any light to the larger issue of digital piracy, considering the fact that it is basically the kettle calling the pot black. Whether it is ultimately deemed frivolous or not we do not know, but one thing is clear; as far as name calling and digital finger pointing is concerned, the mainstream is every bit as bitchy as porn.