LOS ANGELES (CN) - Dozens of recording artists accuse CBS Interactive and its subsidiary CNET Networks of promoting "massive infringement" of copyright by offering free downloads of file-sharing software specifically designed for media piracy. They claim CBS and CNET were the main distributors of the "infringement engines," and made a fortune in ad revenue from their "pay per download" screens.
The artists compare CBS' and CNET's inducement to violate copyright with LimeWire and Napster, which were "sued into oblivion" for their copyright violations.
"Over the last decade, countless websites and 'file sharing' or peer-to-peer ('P2P') software programs - from Napster, in 2001, to LimeWire in 2010 - have been sued into oblivion because a multitude of courts have found that they were essentially engines of infringement, designed with the specific aim of knowingly encouraging, inducing and/or assisting others in direct copyright infringement of artists' works, and profiting thereby," the complaint states.
"As a result of these lawsuits, an overwhelming number of these file-sharing sites are now completely inactive and their founding companies are bankrupt. Yet, for most if not all of this time, one particular group of businesses - led by defendants CBS Interactive and CNET - have knowingly and willingly participated in and profited mightily from the same massive infringement that engendered large copyright suits against Napster and LimeWire and that ultimately crippled them financially. And they have done so with impunity.
"In fact, because they owned a number of the most heavily visited sites in the world for downloading software of all types, defendants did more to further this massive infringement than Napster or LimeWire ever could by falsely legitimizing it and popularizing it to the masses.
"As recently as 2010, one could access a legitimate portion of defendants' sites and download non-infringing, licensed software such as Quickbooks accounting software or Adobe Acrobat, and could during the same shopping session download the LimeWire infringement engine, which was clearly intended to be downloaded for infringing purposes. This ambiguity worked even further to defendants' advantage by making it seem to the casual consumer that a LimeWire download had the same legitimacy as a download of licensed office software.
"In essence, defendants have taken music piracy from the dorm room to the board room. Thus, while other companies faced heavy statutory penalties and went bankrupt, and music labels banded together to levy practically unconscionable penalties on unemployed college students and housewives, defendants quietly made billions by inducing those same individuals to break the law, by providing them the software to do it, and then by giving even the least computer-savvy a step-by-step guide as to how to do it."
For more than 10 years, the plaintiffs say, CBS, through its website CNET, has offered free downloads of several peer-to-peer software programs (also called clients), such as BitComet, Morpheus, KaZaa and Frostwire, which were designed primarily for copyright infringement, with built-in features that allow users to search for media on websites dedicated to piracy. The file-sharing networks let users transfer files from one another's hard drives and locate music and video files by artist name, album, genre and other criteria.