Finding out the hard way that linking to infringing content is illegal

For the last month or so I have been listing cracked iPhone applications and games on my iPhone website, thinking that what I was doing was totally legal. After all, I was not the one cracking these iPhone applications and I was not the one making them available online. I was simply linking to them in order to let people know where to get them.

Everything was doing pretty well. I was averaging 1,600 visits per day (and growing fast!) on my iPhone blog. 90% of my traffic came for one reason: finding out where to get all these cracked iPhone apps. That was until 1.50pm today…

I checked by email inbox and saw an email from DreamHost, my hosting company. The subject line was: “URGENT: DMCA Takedown Notification”. That didn’t smell good…

Here is the body of the email I received:

Hello Sebastien,We have received a formal DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice regarding allegedly infringing content hosted on your site. The specific content in question is as follows:

http://www.iphonedownloadblog.com/the-ultimate-list-of-cracked-games-for-iphone/

The party making the complaint (Ian Ramage, O’Melveny & Myers LLP, Phone: 415.984.8783 ,e-mail: iramage@omm.com), claims under penalty of perjury to be or represent the copyright owner of this content. Pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 512(c), we have removed access to the content in question.

http://www.loc.gov/copyright/title17/92chap5.html#512

If you believe that these works belong to you and that the copyright ownership claims of this party are false, you may file a DMCA counter-notification in the form described by the DMCA, asking that the content in question be reinstated. Unless we receive notice from the complaining party that a lawsuit has been filed to restrain you from posting the content, we will reinstate the content in question within 10-14 days after receiving your counter-notification (which will also be forwarded on to the party making the complaint).

In the meantime, we ask that you do not replace the content in question, or in any other way distribute it in conjunction with our services. Please also be advised that copyright violation is strictly against our Terms and Conditions, and such offenses risk resulting in immediate disablement of your account should you not cooperate (not to mention the legal risk to you if they are true).

http://www.dreamhost.com/tos.html

We also ask that if you are indeed infringing upon the copyright associated with these works that you delete them from your account immediately, and let us know once this has been done.

We also ask that you delete any other infringing works not listed in this takedown notification, if they exist. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Glen,

I was wondering who this “Ian Ramage, O’Melveny & Myers LLP” law firm was. It didn’t take me too long to find out it actually is Apple’s law firm!

At first, I emailed Ian Ramage, the Attorney that filed the DMCA notice to tell him I was not doing anything illegal, that I was just pointing to cracked applications, but I didn’t crack them or uploaded them to servers.

In the meanwhile, I did some research. I read part of the US copyright law and didn’t find anything relevant. All this legal jargon is Chinese to me.

Then I stumbled upon an article that states that linking to infringing content is probably illegal in the US.

Here is what this website says:

Summary: There have been 3 court cases in the US where sites were forced to take down links leading to infringing material on external sites. The sites were found guilty of ‘contributory infringement’ for simply linking.

Although unclear the law leans in favor of content owner so if you linked to copyrighted material and don’t take it down you could very well lose a legal battle and face huge legal fees. Even blogs are at risk!

Lock and ChainA large number of cases never reach the courts where sites are served with takedown notices and dare not risk ignoring them as they may otherwise face liability.

Are copyright laws out of control and infringing our own right to share information and discuss what is available on the web?

Is Linking to Infringing Content Illegal in the US? Like it or not the short answer is yes. I don’t agree with it or like it but its true. The law currently leans towards the concept that linking to infringing content is illegal.

At first, I was pissed. After thinking about it, I am really pissed! It is not like I am linking to kiddie porn or something.

DreamHost did an outstanding job at helping me out with this issue. Glen, the CSR at DreamHost, was on top of it, replying to my emails within minutes to advice me on what to do. The $140/year I pay them is very well spent. Although they have downtime every once in a while, their service is just first-class.

Oh well, lesson learned.

18 thoughts on “Finding out the hard way that linking to infringing content is illegal

  1. It’s best not to be associated with dodgy content in the long run, I think. You could, however, research how others get away with it; hosting or residing abroad, perhaps?

    You don’t run from the first solicitors letter. You, of course, had much firmer opposition than the average Joe who gets a badly-drafted letter from a small-time cheeseball.

  2. I wish everyone would create a link like you did.

    I think it would be funny to see Ian scramble to address complaints to everyone.

    Sounds like a rewarding job, sending out emails to everyone who links to a cracked iPhone (do I need to trademark?) application. Boooooring.

  3. @John – haha. Actually Ian was pretty cool about it. He took the time to get on the phone with me and tell me what I can and cannot do.

    I felt kinda pissed because I’m only a small guy, you know. It’s not like I’m making money off that. Anyways.

    Ian sent a similar email to TechCrunch a couple years ago. I am not TechCrunch so I couldn’t really afford to send the same type of reply. Have a look at it; it’s pretty funny: http://www.crunchnotes.com/2006/08/30/apple-sends-a-nastygram/

  4. Pingback: Cracked iPhone Games and Applications

  5. To them, any pointing out of the cracks potentially brings more and more people to their use. Still, you would think they’d just go after the ones doing the dirty work and eliminate the little guys like you in the process…since you would have nothing to link to if they did the big job to begin with. Sucks, but glad you’re over it.

  6. Pingback: List of Cracked iPhone Games and Applications » iPhone Themes,Wallpapers,Unlock Hacks,Cracks,Software,Google GPhone News & Guides » List of Cracked iPhone Games and Applications

  7. Pingback: DMCA Jailbreak Exemption Petition

  8. I am pissed now. I am from Croatia, and our law justice is so fucked up and your (US) laws doesn’t mean anything here, so I will open blog with full content and EVERY possible cracked file for iPhone, and I will notify them with mail where they can see my cracked files and I will dare them to sue me.

    They can scare only US citizens, but us they can not sue, because here, our law it is not jet fixed about cracked files.

    So, let them sue me! They will wait around 10 years to be solved, but here in Croatia, after 3 years, everything goes to trash.

    It is true, so I am immediately going to open site!

  9. I am pissed now. I am from Croatia, and our law justice is so fucked up and your (US) laws doesn’t mean anything here, so I will open blog with full content and EVERY possible cracked file for iPhone, and I will notify them with mail where they can see my cracked files and I will dare them to sue me.

    They can scare only US citizens, but us they can not sue, because here, our law it is not jet fixed about cracked files.

    So, let them sue me! They will wait around 10 years to be solved, but here in Croatia, after 3 years, everything goes to trash.

    It is true, so I am immediately going to open site!

  10. Pingback: Apple Reminds Us That jailbreaking Is Illegal

  11. SIrs: I am an iPhone developer with 2 apps in the iTunes store. My apps have been a critical success, but not a financial success…at least not enough to cover development costs to this point (Since April 09).

    My apps were cracked within days, and I was powerless to do anything about it. Since the crackers proudly keep hit counters on the downloads, I know I’ve lost over $24,000 USD in lost revenue. This would have covered development costs, and made me a profit to be happy about, but instead I am in the red so far.

    So what I am trying to say, is this is a real problem: By supporting stolen stuff, in the end we will only have the free stuff that the biggest global corporations issue for. The inventive little guy is totally washed out. And… you will get to live in a world of advertisements and spyware. You need to understand that people like me will simply walk away. Burned by a wild-wild west global internet mentality, and Apple’s non-existent support to developers on this issue. {So far they haven’t made one API available to developers to use to prevent piracy.}

    So my message is that piracy chases away the inventive people. You can’t shit on someone’s parade every day, and expect them to hang around forever.

    I know you’re thinking that all the iPhone developers are all millionaires, right? so why not position yourself to download free stuff? Wrong, that was in the first few months of apps, and is simply not the case.

    When I read some of the whining in this forum and eslewhere on the internet, I simply ask you to go to Starbucks and order a Tall coffee for about $1.80 . After they give it to you, turn around, and walk out without paying….OK?…. No you wouldn’t do that because someone would yell at you right?? You wouldn’t want to look like a petty thief, right? Well on the internet, when nobody can yell at you, and you can hide behind your IP-veil, you know you can continue to manage your public image of being an honest person…….. Me a petty thief? Moi? Yes, you!

  12. If apple cared about people hacking their products, maybe they would tighten up their firmware security, and eliminate their DFU mode.

    Sony PSP is one of the hardest portable devices to hack, at first firmware exploits were used to hack it but it was not long before Sony had this fixed up, and it became impossible to use exploits. Instead hackers used Sony’s form of DFU mode (Recovery mode), only this was not simple to preform as you either need a hacked PSP to make a pandora battery, or to buy one off the internet.
    Then along came the PSP-3000, i do not know if this is hackable yet, but it probably isn’t.:(

    So basically, Sony’s way of unbricking keeps more people away from hacking their device.

    But in my opinion apple rules because of their low security, Sony sucks because of their tight security.

    So, thank you Apple inc.

  13. I agree with what Apple did. Look at it this way. If you know somebody who robbed a bank and they are sitting at home with all that cash and you tell a friend their address. Are you not just as guilty? You aided a criminal. It may seem small and insufficent but in reality it is a huge thing. Sure a dollar or two here and there isnt much, but add it up in the long run with oer 1,600 people downloading it each day…. Thats quite a load of money they are losing.

  14. My message is that Apple inc. should tighten thier belts, and put more anti-jailbreakin’ security on thier devices.

    “Hackers will never stop because most enjoy what they do, or get big bucks $$$”

  15. Actually.. you would have won the case :)
    Linking to “illegal” content has been an issue here in the Netherlands for quiet some time as well.
    It indeed is a vage area, but bottomline is the fact that you only point to software that is available on the net, just like Google is doing. Since all the software links you might have can also be found by google.
    The few websites that have gone to court regarding this have won the case in front of a judge.
    Problem is that it is getting harder these days. Can you imagine that the Dutch government is considering to put taxes on youtube?

  16. Piracy will always be around, and I am sure most Americans have engaged in some form of Piracy. There are laws upon laws that protect content from being illegaly viewed or obtained, but the reality is that the easier it is to pirate things, the more people aren’t afraid to do it.
    By linking the software on the web page, no real laws should have been broken. You have presented a person with a choice. You can stand outside of a music store and tell a passer-by that he can grab some cd’s without the manager knowing because the manager is usually asleep. You have made obvious the ability to commit a crime and get away with it, but the passer-by is the one who will choose to commit or not commit the crime. If there is no profit in linking the software, then how can one be held responsible for giving someone a choice? You may not be a squeaky-clean, honest person, but you aren’t commiting a crime.

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