31 January 2005

Framing the Question

According to the BBC (thanks to the IPKat), the trial court in Norway finally ruled on remand on the Bruvik matter. Frank Bruvik ran a website that posted a list of publicly accessible MP3 files. Entries on the list were submitted by others; none of the files were hosted there. The court has now held that Bruvik's list of links was an illegal aid to copyright infringement and fined him Kr100,000 (about $16,000US).

It's a good thing for the BBC that it is not itself subject to jurisdiction in Norway for its English-language website. Or, at least, one hopes so—because, on the BBC's page for this story, it includes a link to the Wayback Machine's archive of the infringing site. The BBC might be saved from liability because its intent is not to facilitate infringement—facilitating infringement would be an accident of a legitimate journalistic function. After all, the BBC includes links of that nature on virtually every news page. (Let's just ignore for the moment the BBC's hubris in claiming perpetual reuse rights for anything it has ever purchased while aggressively seeking to suppress others' copying of material from its website and archives, ok?) Even as pro-content-creator as I am, I couldn't credit such a suit against the BBC.

The Wayback Machine, however, is a much closer question. Frankly, it is itself a massive copyright violation that makes no pretenses otherwise. That's not to denigrate its usefulness and value as an archive per se; that's only to note that the parent organization is remarkably cavalier about the copyrights of individuals and organizations whose sites it archives. The Wayback Machine is an "opt-out" system that does not work as it so states (for example, it disrespects certain meta flags on websites, and when it encounters one that it will respect does not go into the past to even see if it has already "violated" that flag). The conceptual problem with this is that copyright is an "opt-in" statute. Period. I have far too much experience with class actions to ignore the difference!

In any event, this would be a fascinating lawschool exam question, reaching issues of personal jurisdiction, attenuation of effect, intent, and the philosophy of personal responsibility—not to mention conflicts of law. Maybe I'll have to spring it sometime… and, again, any student enterprising enough to spot this entry (since I maintain my own archive, they won't have to use the Wayback Machine!) probably deserves whatever dubious advantage they'll get. Issue-spotting is important; but the, I'm one of those whackos who also grades writing quality on exams, so you can guess just how far the I in IRAC will get you (that is, a solid B-).