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Google steps into file sharing scrap

The search giant backs up Hotfile in action against the Motion Picture Association of America.

If you’re an online company, it’s certainly good to have a friend in Google. That’s where Hotfile finds itself now as the search giant has filed as a friend of the court brief in the ongoing legal action between Hotfile and the Motion Picture Association of America. The MPAA wants Hotfile shut down because, it claims, Hotfile is trafficking in pirated content like movies and TV shows.

But Google has stepped in, filing a brief with the court that Hotfile shouldn’t be held accountable for what people do on the site, just as Google shouldn’t be held accountable for what people put on YouTube, which Google owns.

Eric Goldman from Santa Clara University Law School says under current law it’s up to whoever owns the copyright to file a complaint that their work is appearing illegally. “When a service provider gets a notice like that,” he says, “they can ignore the notice and take whatever legal consequence might flow from that, or they can expeditiously respond to the notice in which case the law is designed to give them a safe harbor that says they're no longer liable.”

The safe harbor provision affords greater creativity among entrepreneurs because they’re not as worried about what content might pass through their servers. “The point of this safe harbor protection in particular was to provide certainty for people who wanted to create new platforms for sharing information online,” says Stanford Law lecturer Anthony Falzone, who is concerned some of these cases will have a chilling effect and stop the next YouTube or Facebook from being developed.

“If the rules get muddy, then I think entrepreneurs and the people who invest in their ideas are going to look elsewhere,” Falzone says, “and the net effect of that is there's going to be less innovation online and the sad part is we won't even know what we lose cause it hasn't been invented yet.”

File sharing cases are getting more attention lately after the people behind the site Megaupload were arrested. By making that a criminal matter, says Goldman, the government raised the stakes. “It really made people in the hosting industry question, ‘Am I committed to the scheme that I've got because I'm not just betting my business, I'm betting my liberty,’” he says.

Goldman doesn't expect the issue of file sharing or content hosting or piracy, whatever you want to call it, to be resolved soon.

“The law has been settled for a while now, but content owners don't like that deal, and until they find a deal they like, they're going to keep looking for ways to fix the situation to respond to their needs better,” he says. “ You know, over and over consumers have sent such loud and clear messages to the content industry: let us consume your content at the time and place of our choosing, and if you do that, we'll even be willing to pay you for that.”

Also in this program, Nokia has applied for a patent for a system that would alert you to a new email or text by vibrating a tattoo on your body. Because that would be pleasant and everyone would enjoy it. 

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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