Is Reporting Leaked & Copyright-Protected Material Equal to Contributory Infringement?
This post was first published on 17th May, 2014.
“No”, says a federal judge in California, dismissing Hollywood’s star director, Quentin Tarantino’s claim against Gawker Media, LLC. Gawker, a magazine on a lookout for juicy news in the entertainment biz, reported the leak of Tarantino’s unpublished work by providing a direct link to the copyright protected “leaked script” for the film, “The Hateful Eight”.
Tarantino, a multiple Oscar winning/nominated writer-director, discovered that his copyright protected script was leaked. Gawker, on its website, reported the leaked Tarantino’s script in an article, the gist of it being that The Hateful Eight was leaked and that Quentin Tarantino had decided to cancel the movie. Soon after, the news of the leaked script spread like wild fire and found itself being part of news articles on various online magazines like The Wrap, which published an article claiming it had “obtained a copy” of the script, the script that was making its way around Hollywood. Interestingly, The Wrap also disclosed a trend that had found its way into Hollywood which could better explain the leaking of the copyright protected script. According to The Wrap, Hollywood assistants were now circulating a link anyone could use to download PDF copies of scripts. Another website, AnonFiles.com, posted a complete copy of the screenplay, and the same was made available later on Scribd.
Gawker, aside from their first article about the leaked script, published a followup article entitled, “Here’s the Leaked Quentin Tarantino Hateful Eight Script”, providing the hyperlink to links to AnonFiles.com and Scribd.
Tarantino hit Google with a DMCA take down request for any URL that pointed to his script and sued Gawker for “Contributory Copyright Infringement” for linking to a site that is being sued for Direct Copyright Infringement. Tarantino also accused Gawker for engaging in facilitating and encouraging the public’s violation of Tarantino’s copyright on the screenplay by providing links to copies that someone else had already posted. Gawker in turn argued that its act amounted to fair use of reporting and hence there could not be infringement.
The learned district judge in the California District Court noted that Tarantino had primarily failed to prove an act of Direct Infringement that could have supported his claim for Contributory Infringement. Further, it was held that Tarantino merely speculated some Direct Infringement must have taken place. The Judge dismissed the complaint filed by him while providing him an opportunity to amend his complaint and try again.
Tarantino claims that the market value of his script had been harmed, while Gawker contends it had posted the link as part of its reporting of news. We could wait and see how Tarantino comes back with his amended complaint to protect his copyright.
You can read the full text of the judgment here.