By now, every sports fan has heard about the hoax apparently perpetrated against Notre Dame linebacker Mantei T’eo. And though most of the discussion has revolved around whether T’eo can credibly claim to be a victim, a few people have begun discussing whether the perpetrator of the hoax bears legal liability for what he’s done. Most of these discussions talk about the difficulty of holding the perpetrator liable.
Now, I realize that for a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Nevertheless, what about a copyright action against the perpetrator for taking the photos from someone else? Granted, it’s not the most traditional use of copyright, but it doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me. Maybe there wouldn’t be a lot of provable damages, but willful statutory damages (up to $150,000 per infringement – and I believe the perpetrator used multiple photos) could get large enough to really hurt, especially since the perpetrator isn’t a wealthy man.
The AP reports that the founder of Megaupload has started a new file sharing venture. Apparently, the new venture allows users to upload large files for downloading by others. The new service also apparently includes encryption that prevents the service from knowing what has been uploaded. This is supposed to shield the new venture from liability. However, given the possibility of applying Grokster-type inducement, I’m not sure it will work out as the service hopes.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this story is the apparent inability of criminal prosecution to deter services from facilitating copyright infringement. Throughout the “war” on Internet copyright infringement, the assumption has been that powerful penalties will deter people from infringing. In this case, however, Megaupload’s founder is facing extradition to the U.S. to face prosecution, yet he has pretty much come right back for another go. Makes me think that now, more than ever, security for digital works will always be evanescent, at best.