Linking To Pirated Content: Is It Allowed?

linking to pirated contentIs linking to pirated content legal? Can you be successfully sued over it? Let’s take a quick look at the issue.

Man Jailed For Linking To Pirated Content

A UK court handed down a 4-year prison sentence sentenced to the creator of surfthechannel.com – a search engine for pirated and illegal streaming content. After an 8-week trial, he was found guilty on 2 counts of conspiracy to facilitate copyright infringement. He could have received up to ten years in the slammer, but walked away with four.

Surfthechannel.com was similar to many modern-day filing sharing sites, in that it doesn’t actually host any files; instead, it linked to both legal and copyrighted material. Launched in 2007, analysts estimated that Surfthechannel.com was netting $55,000 a month.

Pleased with the verdict, prosecutors explained:

“This case conclusively shows that running a website that deliberately sets out to direct users to illegal copies of films and TV shows will result in a criminal conviction and a long jail sentence.”

Law Enforcement Went Full-Spy To Catch Torrent Robin Hood

If you think officials aren’t eager to catch copyright violators, think again. According to reports, an “elaborate sting operation” fueled the conviction. Aided by the Federation Against Copyright Theft, one investigator posed as a potential home buyer and shot surveillance video during a real estate open house at his home. Prosecutors also obtained bank information and telephone records of him, his parents, and wife.

A File Sharing Company’s Stance On Linking To Pirated Content

In 2012, a RapidShare lawyer attended the Technology Policy Institute Forum. A man with a purpose, he was there to convince attendees that file sharing sites are not an online copyright problem; instead, sites linking to pirated content (i.e., The Pirate Bay) are the true Blue Meanies.

His two main talking points:

  1. RapidShare is offering a technology, not facilitating piracy, and thus should not be unfairly chastised for others’ wrongdoings; and
  2. Blame the people who link to infringed copy, not the innovators with compliant file sharing sites.

In the company’s exact parlance:

“Rather than enacting legislation that could stifle innovation in the cloud, the U.S. government should crack down on this critical part of the online piracy network.”

In a statement, RapidShare drove home the “linkers-are-evil” trope by explaining:

“These very sophisticated websites, often featuring advertising, facilitate the mass indiscriminate distribution of copyrighted content on the Internet and should be the focus of US intellectual property enforcement efforts.”

It’s difficult to disagree with RapidShare’s point. If you Google “Download The Avengers 2012 Movie,” the sites that pop up in the SERPs are pirated content search sites, not the actual RapidShare page on which the file sits.

UPDATE: Google implemented a new anti-piracy update that incorporates DMCA takedown requests into the algorithm. The more a site gets, the further down the SERPs they’re pushed – a move praised by the RIAA, MPAA and from the sounds of it, sites like RapidShare that are angling to put a compliant face on file sharing.

Play It Safe By Following These Two Simple Rules

This online copyright case invited more turmoil than just a jail sentence. In addition to spending four years behind bars, the convicted pirate-enabler has also declared bankruptcy; plus, according to reports, the incident may have helped wreck his marriage.

Ask yourself: do you want to suffer the same fate? No? Then here are two pointers to avoid an Internet copyright lawsuit:

  1. Quit It: Clearly, the best defense is innocence. If you’re engaged in any type of illegal downloading, stop. Yes, the price of entertainment has arguably gotten out of hand, but if you want to cover your butt, don’t illegally downloaded pirated content.
  2. Don’t Even Link: True of false: linking to pirated content is a legal way to circumvent statutes. FALSE! WRONG! Over the past year, several people have been penalized for linking to infringed content.

A Lot Of Innocent People Are Accused Of Illegal Downloading

Not everybody accused of illegal downloading and piracy is guilty. In fact, the less technologically savvy among us find themselves staring down a legal summons for something they didn’t do. One insecure wireless account, or errant click on a deceptive pop-up ad can cause online copyright legal problems for an unsuspecting, law-abiding citizen.

Online Copyright Attorney, At Your Service

Need help with a n issues related to linking to pirated content — or another online copyright challenge? Get in touch.