Had a bit of a shock today to find out tv-links.co.uk, a site created based around the concept of sharing links to tv-shows/cartoons uploaded to video sharing sites, has been shut down, and its 26 year old UK based owner arrested. The arrest seems to have been orchestrated by FACT (the Federation Against Copyright Theft, the UK based copyright infringement prosecuters).
Its a strange one, as mentioned in this news article, as TV-Links do not actually host any copyrighted content. In fact, on the surface they’re no different from any social bookmarking site (i.e., del.icio.us) in that they simply allow users of the site to post links.
The charge of “facilitation of copyright infringement” seems to be saying “You linked to copyrighted videos and so helped other people find them. Therefore, you contributed to the theft.” But considering the way the internet works, how can this ever hold up? TV-Links.co.uk is, in essence, linking to another site. But wait, I just linked to them. Does this mean I’m breaking the law too? What about the other 1500 (approx) people that link to tv-links? Following this logic, if I was to tell you I saw a guy down the street selling fake DVDs, I’d be facilitating copyright infringement. If I went onto a site such as tv-links and clicked and advert, I’m facilitating copyright theft. Why? Because I’m helping them profit. I’m contributing to the overall “problem”. Its a flawed arguement, and I’d be interested to see how it pans out in court.
However, as a user of TV-Links there are a couple of things I remember noticing about the site that could potentially land it in some bother.
First of all, the method tv-links used to serve the videos was unique, and not something Ive seen on any other websites serving TV-Shows and films. Rather than simply linking to the film, tv-links grabbed the video stream from the site hosting the film and played it through its own Flash Player. So, although the videos are still hosted on a seperate site, it gave an impression it was coming from him. Without knowing how his Flash player works I can’t be 100% certain, but I would assume the video stream was being pulled to his server, before then re-streaming it to the user (which would explain why so many of their videos took ages to load). The fact the film actually passed through his sever may make him more liable than a site that just gives you a link to the film and lets you get on with it.
Second, there were a number of adverts. Seemingly harmless, but FACT can claim they were profiting off copyrighted material. I think this could turn out to be the key arguement from the prosecution team, as it will show they he [the site owner] was personally benefiting from the illegal distribution of copyrighted materials. I don’t know if they take into account how many links they kept, but there were A LOT.
Either way I’m interested to hear the outcome. With the impending lawsuits against several major bittorrent sites, its looks like 2008 is going to be an interesting year for the debate of what constitues piracy and the what freedoms website owners have to link to other websites. Do we need to start being a lot more careful in the future?? Stay tuned…
– Update 20/9/2007 –
Just found an article which conveniently summarises some thoughts Ive had on the subject. Starting by taking out the small fry (ie, the middleman website) is a ridiculous idea. Anyone with any PHP knowledge could put together a site that displays links to films, using the films currently hosted on other sites. So why not take on the bigger sites? The Dailymotions, the Youtubes, the Gubas, etc. Whats the difference? Well… probably anywhere up to Â£5billion a year revenue and the team of lawyers. TV-Links is an easy target, Google are not. FACT know that, in reality, they have no power. They’re nothing but a small agency that organises prosecutions, and they’re not run/funded by the Government. Would they have much chance against Google’s law team? Probably not. So why try? 😉