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CBS responds to injunction against CNET reporting on torrent technology

In a filing last week, CBS Interactive – the owner of tech site CNET – has responded to a legal injunction that prevents its journalists from linking to or writing about bit torrent P2P technology under the assumption that doing so promotes the illegal downloading and sharing of copyrighted material.

The injunction was requested last November by more than a dozen R&B and hip-hop musicians who believe that CBSI has been “inducing” piracy through pointing to file-sharing software and running instructional tutorials on how best to use it on CNET and related sites. The musicians’ legal battle against the company started in 2011 and was spearheaded by Alki David, the billionaire behind FilmOn – a site that had found itself in legal battles with CBS early in its career over what was an illegal online broadcasting of CBS programming. The initial filing against CBS noted that “the CBS Defendants’ business model has been so dependent upon P2P and file-sharing that entire pages of [CNET site] Download.com are designed to specifically list and categorize these software offerings.” The note goes on to suggest that “the CBS Defendants’ were well aware that these software applications were used overwhelmingly to infringe [on others’ copyrights] when they first partnered with LimeWire and other P2P providers, but ignored it in exchange for a steady stream of income.”

CBSI’s response to the injunction request focuses on the impact that it would have on CNET as a whole, arguing that the injunction would “substantially damage CBSI’s business of providing a comprehensive index of software applications and editorial information about them,” but that it “would not prevent either downloads of BitTorrent client software, or potential infringement of Plaintiffs’ works.” Additionally, the response argues, “If CBSI were enjoined from linking to sites that offer downloads of BitTorrent clients, those sites would still remain available to the public and would still be easily found by a simple search on Google – albeit without the warning against infringement that CBSI provides. Moreover, the public interest would be damaged by denying legitimate and truthful information about a pervasive technology, as well as by impending non-infriging uses.”

While it’s true that putting an injunction on CBSI’s sites from writing about or linking to P2P technology seems more about hurting CBSI than making a legitimate attempt to deal with piracy issues, this maneuver brings to mind the ongoing conversation about CBS’ influence over CNET’s editorial output. Earlier this month, reporter Greg Sandoval resigned from CNET, tweeting that he “no longer [has] confidence that CBS is committed to editorial independence.” This, of course, came after CBS CEO Les Moonves’ decision to overrule the CNET staff in their choice for the “Best of CES” Award, removing original winner – Dish Network’s Hopper set-top box – from the running as a result of an ongoing legal battle between CBS and Dish over the device. Following the revelation that CBS had stepped in, CNET added a disclaimer to its Best of CES page that explained that not only was the Dish Hopper “removed from consideration due to active litigation involving our parent company CBS Corp,” but that “we will no longer be reviewing products manufactured by companies with which we are in litigation with respect to such product.” (Sandoval referred to this on Twitter, complaining that “CNET wasn’t honest about what occurred regarding Dish [and that] is unacceptable to me. We are supposed to be truth tellers.”)

Whether or not the musicians and David are actually trying to combat piracy or simply embarrass CBS in general, this current lawsuit is nonetheless succeeding in the latter at a time when its integrity has already been called into question.

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