Atlantic Recording Corp. v. Project Playlist, Inc., 603 F.Supp.2d 690 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (full-text).
Factual Background Edit
The plaintiffs were some of the largest record companies in the world. Defendant Project Playlist owns and operates a website that searches the Internet using a program called a "spider" to help users search for particular songs or artists, and then shows them an index of links to sound recordings on other websites. One of the user options is to download the song, which leads to a new page. This new page shows a message warning the user that some of the music files "may be subject to copyright" and that users should not download from this site. Despite Playlist's warnings to users to not illegally download copyrighted works, users are not prevented from downloading songs from these third-party websites.
In addition to providing an index of songs, Playlist also builds its database of links by permitting users to submit links to songs that they found elsewhere on the Internet. The majority of the songs are posted without permission of the copyright owners. Plaintiffs own the copyrights to many of these songs.
On April 28, 2008, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Playlist asserting claims for direct and secondary copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C. §§106 and 501, common law copyright infringement under New York law as to plaintiffs' pre-1972 recordings, and unfair competition under New York law as to plaintiffs' pre-1972 recordings.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
Defendant’s Motion to Transfer Venue Edit
Playlist sought to transfer venue to the Northern District of California, arguing that venue would be more convenient for the parties, and that defendants filed suit in the particular district to avoid the reach of an adverse Ninth Circuit precedent. Plaintiffs argued that venue was appropriate. Because Playlist has failed to make a "clear and convincing" showing required to warrant a transfer of this case, the motion to transfer was denied.
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss State Law Claims Edit
Playlist then files a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' claims for copyright infringement and unfair competition on the ground that such claims are barred by a provision of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, Section 230 ("the CDA").
To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's claim must be "plausible." This means that the court looks into whether the complaint pleads "enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Furthermore, CDA Section 230 was enacted based on a concern that treating computer service providers the same way as traditional publishers would impede the development of the Internet. Therefore, in Section 230, Congress decided to treat third-party content on the Internet differently than non-electronic providers of third party content, such as newspapers. As such, providers of interactive computer services would be immunized from civil liability in tort with respect to material circulated by them but created by others.
Playlist argued that it was entitled to immunity under this section of the CDA. Plaintiffs argued that Playlist is not covered by this grant of immunity because Playlist itself functions as an "information content provider." An interactive computer service like Playlist qualifies for immunity as long as it does not also function as an "information content provider" for the portion of the statement or publication at issue.
Courts across the United States have repeatedly held that the CDA's grant of immunity should be construed broadly. As such, courts have held that an interactive computer service is not liable where it posts or links to a third-party's content. Playlist does not itself supply the content (the songs) to which plaintiffs object. Playlist merely provides the interface for accessing that content and provides links so users can download the songs on third-party websites. However, immunity under Section 230(c)(1) is not conclusive and the court must determine whether that immunity can defeat plaintiffs' state law claims.
Plaintiffs’ State Law Claims Edit
Even if Playlist is entitled to immunity under Section 230(c)(1), plaintiffs argue their state law claims can still proceed because they fall within the immunity carve-out Section 230(e)(2). Playlist argues that the CDA should be read to immunize Internet providers from all state law claims, even those sounding in intellectual property. There is a problem with its argument, since it lacks any support in the plain language of the CDA. Because the plain language of the CDA is clear, as "any law" means both state and federal law, the Court was not required to and did not engage in an analysis of the CDA's legislative history or purpose. Accordingly, the court concludes that Section 230(c)(1) does not provide immunity for either federal or state intellectual property claims. Because Section 230(e) does not immunize Playlist from plaintiff’s state law claims, its motion to dismiss was denied.