Two recent copyright infringement cases coming out of the US show that celebrities are taking their online rights seriously but nevertheless remain at the mercy of their social media fan base.

The cases also serve as a warning to social media users and bloggers who post or share links to unauthorised copies of copyrighted material: copyright rights exist and can be enforced online and in social media even against anonymous users.

Tarantino v Gawker Media and others (United States District Court for the Central District of California Western Division – Case 2:14 CV 00603, filed 27 January 2014)

On 27 January 2014, the film director Quentin Tarantino filed a lawsuit against Gawker Media for a post on Gawker’s Defamer blog that provided a link to an unproduced screenplay written by Tarantino, The Hateful Eight.   

Tarantino alleges that on 21 January 2014, he discovered a copy of the screenplay had been leaked public, albeit in a limited manner, and spoke publicly about the leak.  On 22 January, Gawker actively solicited its readers to copies of the script, posting on its blog “If anyone would like to…leak the script to us, please do so on [email address]”. The next day, Gawker published a post entitled “Here is the Leaked Quentin Tarantino Hateful Eight Script”, containing multiple direct links for downloading the entire screenplay through an anonymous URL.   

Tarantino claims that the post “brazenly encourages Gawker visitors to read the screenplay illegally with the invitation to “Enjoy!” it””.  He alleges both direct infringement by “John Doe” defendants and anonfiles.com, an unknown entity that posted the screenplay, as well as contributory copyright infringement against Gawker Media which refused to remove the links to the screenplay after Tarantino’s lawyers gave it notice to do so.

Tarantino is seeking actual damages of at least $1 million in each of the infringement claims, as well as statutory and punitive damages, and an injunction preventing Gawker from providing a link to the script.

Prince v Chodera and others (United States District Court for the Northern District of California – Case 3:14 CV 00273)  

The Artist currently known as Prince also filed a similar lawsuit against 22 Facebook and Google Blogger users, many of whom were identified only by their username, and who had posted links to unauthorised copies of Prince’s live performances, including one blogger who posted 363 separate infringing links to file sharing services.   

The lawsuit was filed on 16 January 2014 and claimed $1 million from each Facebook and Google Blogger user who used the platforms to “publish posts that list all the songs performed at a certain Prince live show and then provide a link to a file sharing service where unauthorised copies of the performance can be downloaded”.   

However Prince’s suit was over almost as soon as it began with the singer this week withdrawing his action once the illegal downloads were removed but only after suffering a major social media backlash from fans many of whom posted, commented and tweeted their disappointment at his heavy handed reaction.

Kate Eaglen