Tuesday, October 23, 2007

TV-Links clampdown

TV-Links, a website hosting links to TV Shows and movies, has been shut down, and the police have arrested the site's administrator. According to FACT, the man was arrested "in connection with offences relating to the facilitation of copyright infringement on the Internet." The man has been released pending further investigation.

TV Links is one of the growing number of websites who do nothing but aggregate links to TV shows. It is not a pirating site as such as it does not contain any content, but one could certainly argue that it serves to facilitate copyright infringement. The interesting legal question of the week is: does providing links to infringing material constitute copyright infringement? The ORG-Legal mailing list has been abuzz with legal analysis of just this question.

The question of linking has had a long and interesting history in copyright law. The issue has been the subject of some debate, but the assumption for the last ten years has been that links as such do not infringe copyright law. The two most cited linking cases have not actually dealt with the subject of linking. Coiepresse v Google was really mostly a trade mark dispute, and Shetland Times v Wills was mostly about deep linking and whether or not web pages were literary works.

One of the reasons why the linking question has been kept alive has been because of the WIPO Copyright Treaty, which reads in article 8 that "authors of literary and artistic works shall enjoy the exclusive right of authorizing any communication to the public of their works, by wire or wireless means, including the making available to the public of their works in such a way that members of the public may access these works from a place and at a time individually chosen by them." It seems clear that this article tries to cover online piracy, but as some commentators have remarked, it is not an easy fit against linking. Bittorrent in particular does not seem to be covered by the provisions on the communication to the public.

If the law on linking is so thin and tenuous, how is it possible that this man was arrested? We are not just talking about a civil lawsuit, we are talking about criminal liability here. Copyfighter extraordinaire Becky Hogge from the Open Rights Group phoned the Gloucestershire police, and they informed her that the man had been arrested under Section 92 of the Trade Marks Act 1994. Trade mark law? Yes indeed! Welcome to IP Maximalist land: when copyright law does not allow you to make a tenuous claim to an action that may or may not be illegal, use an entirely different area of Intellectual Property Law that allows you to get away with the most outrageous criminal claims.

I have now become so accustomed to abuses against copyright law that I thought nothing would ever surprise me, but this one has. I would believe that the criminal offence typified by s92 of the Trade Marks Act is very specific, the offender must commit the infringing act "with a view to gain for himself or another, or with intent to cause loss to another". I believe that the only part of s92 that would apply to this case might be paragraph 3:

"(3) A person commits an offence who with a view to gain for himself or another, or with intent to cause loss to another, and without the consent of the proprietor—
(a) makes an article specifically designed or adapted for making copies of a sign identical to, or likely to be mistaken for, a registered trade mark, [...]"
Even this would be an extremely convoluted reading of the act. Daithí Mac Síthigh has commented that apparently this is one of FACT's favourite criminal sections, as it is listed in their site, and also has been used before. Why? because it allows for some draconian sanctions:
"(6) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
(a) on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both;
(b) on conviction on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or both. "
Ouch! Perhaps FACT could suffer the fate of IFPI's dot com domain, which has been snatched by Pirate Bay.

Update: A search engine in China has been cleared of linking to infringing content, which lends strength to the proposition that linking is not infringement.


Unknown said...

Really interesting analysis - thanks, Andres!

Anonymous said...

well that was were i watched my anime i admit... i mean watching anime is a hobby.. i like Bleach, TRrinity blood, anime is tight,,, didnt think they would shut it down... i didnt know or think it would acually hurt anyone LOL i dont think it should of been shut down... but thats my oppinion.... but if its against the law... then fine... i didnt really read the Analysis i jsut wanted to say this

Anonymous said...

i catch up wiv prison break on that site!!!

Unknown said...

Sucks that tv-links is gone. I thought it was a great way to hear opinions other than main stream media. They had some really interesting documentaries. There is a lot of buzz on the net about it but nothing about how the public might be able to help. All I found was a petition with a few thousand signatures on it.

Anonymous said...

it sucks tho..... i did like my anime i was able to watch on there.... infringment,,.... grr.... damn laws..... pretty soon we wont be able to do nothing on teh internet everyone will be getting arrested left to right for violations.... -_-

Anonymous said...

otherwise http://spotep.com/spotted works great if you know how to use a torrent

Anonymous said...

The domain name has actually been sold on, however you can find the best TV-Links alternative at TV Shack http://tvshack.net (no broken links!) they can't stop us!!

flinzo said...

it's back

Anonymous said...

Tv-Links reborn, the mother of movies online!

Check the new, relaunched version of tv-links here: http://www.tv-links.eu . They have a huge movie database updated daily. There are no annoying ads on the website and they have a fresh new design.

Anonymous said...


If you didnt know already there have been multiple FAKE versions of the tv links site popping up.

They have actually annouced that there new website is TV Links DB

Anonymous said...

well.. http://www.clickforflick.com has good quality movies and auto link checker