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Alki David-the eccentric billionaire founder of FilmOn.com and now enemy of the major television networks-has cranked out yet another wacky home video. In the jumpy, oddly edited movie, David says he’s gathering names because he intends to file a class-action copyright infringement lawsuit against CBS (NYSE: CBS) on behalf of artists. The video features clips of David denouncing CBS and its owner, Sumner Redstone, interspersed with breathlessly recited MPAA stats about the scourge of online privacy, with quickly flashed pictures of crawling worms and what appears to be a piece of roadkill.
He claims that because CNET’s download.com site distributed Limewire peer-to-peer software, now banned by court order, CNET and its parent company, CBS, should have to pay damages for copyright infringement. David says CNET contributed to Limewire’s copyright crimes, because the great majority of Limewire software was distributed over CNET’s download.com.
The problem with that argument is that until a court order banning distribution of the Limewire software came into effect in November, distributing the free software was perfectly legal. (And CNET has stopped distributing the software.) Limewire, like any peer-to-peer file distribution software, does have non-infringing uses; so until a federal judge stopped the software with an injunction, it was perfectly legal to distribute it.
David says that CNET staff were actively encouraging users to download illegal software like Limewire and DRM-cracking tools. “These people are manipulating the minds of the youth,” he seethes. “This is truly diabolical.”Â
David’s latest video has other quirks, such as looping and repeating phrases like you’d hear in some kind of hip-hop remix with heavy sampling. (Skip to about 14:30 to hear “*YouTube* Celebrity” Mike Mozart talk about how CBS threw the “entire music industry under the bus-under the bus-under the bus.”) The presentation, with its jerky footage, makes you wonder if there’s been some kind of falling-out between the billionaire community and videographers.
The whole legal tussle between the four major U.S. TV networks and FilmOn started when FilmOn began distributing television channels over the internet without permission. The company was quickly hit with an injunction banning those transmissions. Ultimately, David hopes that FilmOn will be ruled a cable system under U.S. law, which would allow it to make those online broadcasts. But the lawyer he hired quickly after getting sued has already jumped ship, citing “irreconcilable differences” with his client. Now, David has a new firm defending that suit, and has hired another serious IP lawyer, Michael Zeller of the Quinn Emanuel law firm, to help him with the planned class-action copyright suit.
A spokeswoman for CNET’s parent company, CBS, declined to comment on David’s new video but did reference a statement the company offered last month saying that David’s litigation with FilmOn isn’t going well: “Mr. David is clearly not feeling very good about his prospects in the court system. He is hardly an expert on intellectual property rights. CNET respects such rights, and meanwhile the court has issued a temporary restraining order against Mr. David and his company. We continue to think that the court is the best venue to determine the outcome of this case, one in which unauthorized use of our content has been distributed illegally.”
David says he’ll keep fighting his case against CBS, too, and will ultimately be vindicated.
Another recently launched company, ivi TV, is making a similar legal argument in the same New York court that is hearing FilmOn’s case. So far, ivi TV’s court case seems to be faring better; at least, it hasn’t been hit with an injunction yet.