CodexCloud: Innocent eBook Service Or Enabler Of Copyright Infringement?

Written by Joe Ross. Posted in Featured, Trends

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Published on October 19, 2011 with 2 Comments

Updated on October 20, 2011 at 11:00 a.m.

I love my Kindle Keyboard. I use it for school as well as recreational reading. I sync it with my Read It Later account, and even listen to some classy tunes while I read. I still buy real, tangible books, but I’ve grown to love the convenience of eBooks. Yesterday, The Next Web reported on CodexCloud, an eBook service that lets users upload and download eBooks from one another. CodexCloud initially populated their digital library with free, public domain content from Project Gutenberg, then opened the service to user uploads. Their Terms of Service clearly prohibit uploading infringing works like copyrighted books.

I created an account and used CodexCloud’s search function to make a list of twenty-five copyrighted eBooks in a matter of minutes. Then I installed their Android application. Much to my surprise (and anxiety), after I logged into the app it proceeded, without asking me, to download all twenty-five of the books I added to my test list onto my phone. Suddenly, I had gone from a mere writer to a full-blown accomplice to potential infringements. The Android app is in the beta testing phase and super-buggy. None of the downloaded eBooks would open. This automatic downloading was especially surprising because the company’s Terms of Use specifically state that “Any work made available via the Service is intended for Streaming only.”

It’s hard to believe that any court would agree that the storage space on a mobile phone, often used for extended periods of time to hold photos and music for frequent use, is “not intended to be copied, stored, [or] permanently downloaded.”

But wait, maybe I’m jumping to legal conclusions (after all, I’m still just a law student). Maybe CodexCloud is protected by the “safe harbors” in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which protect internet services from liability for user uploads as long as they adhere to certain conditions, making sites like YouTube possible. CodexCloud makes clear that users are prohibited from uploading infringing material, and that the company will remove such material at the copyright holder’s request. That’s roughly in line with what the law requires, and it may be enough, at least for now.

CodexCloud bills itself as “Google Music and Grooveshark for books!” I don’t see the comparison to Google Music, because it doesn’t let you share your uploads with other users, as CodexCloud does. The Grooveshark comparison is appropriate though, since the music service lets users upload and share music with other users. While Grooveshark actively licenses music, and terminates repeat infringers, there’s plenty of unauthorized music available on the service. However, although Grooveshark has caused lots of controversy (especially recently), they’re still alive at the ripe old internet age of four, even after monetizing via advertising and a subscription “VIP” service.

But publishers often begin to consider their legal options when they see a company monetizing a large amount of user uploaded content they see as infringing. That’s what Viacom and other video producers did in 2008 when they sued YouTube for the enormous amount of infringing content uploaded to the video site by users. CodexCloud and Grooveshark are analogous to YouTube in that users can upload anything and share it with the world, so they would do well to pay attention the ongoing appeal of that case. The trial court declared that YouTube wasn’t liable, but the case could be reversed on appeal, boding badly for sites who knowingly make money off of mountains of infringing content.

CodexCloud isn’t one of those sites yet, though. They may be wise to implement a filter of some kind to reject or delete uploads of copyrighted works. A move like that would put them at the vanguard of well-meaning content services, and may make them a model for publishers to point to when asked how such a service can avoid legal trouble. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens after CodexCloud comes out of beta.

I asked Paul Hunkin, who from what I can tell is the creator and sole entity behind CodexCloud, for comment, but he didn’t respond in time for this post. All I know is that, in the foreseeable future, I’ll keep getting my eBooks the good old-fashioned way, by paying Google or Amazon for them.

Update: Paul Hunkin, the New Zealand developer behind CodexCloud, responded to my inquiry after this post went up. He told me that he is, in fact, working on a filter that would prevent the availability of copyright eBooks on CodexCloud. He hopes to have the filter functional on the site sometime this weekend. This is great news because it looks like a truly unique and quality service, and the filtering technology will go a long way toward preventing any future legal trouble.

About Joe Ross

Joe Ross is one of the cofounders of KeyPulp. A law student, gadget geek and sci-fi fanatic, Joe also enjoys playing music, matching wits with kittens, and being proven wrong by his beautiful fiancée. Note: Joe writes about legal stuff sometimes. None of that is legal advice and it should never be construed as such. | 

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