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A federal judge has ruled out that there’s a big difference between providing hosting for infringing content and participating in copyright infringement. ALS Scan sued basically everybody for copyright infringement after adult images that it owned were posted all over the web. ALS Scan sued Steadfast Holdings, Cloudflare, Juicy Ads, and a number of other web hosting services.

One by one, these defendants have been excused from the suit. The underlying logic for the dismissals is solid. Providing web hosting is not the same thing as contributory infringement, no matter how much ALS Scan wants it to be.

In the Steadfast ruling, Wu said that merely hosting a pirate site does not make the web hosting service provider liable for any copyright infringement actions the site may be guilty of. In its motion to dismiss, Steadfast argued that it did not manage or operate the Imagebam site, and that it only provided computer storage. Wu wrote that:

“The court is unaware of any authority holding that merely alleging that a defendant provides some form of ‘hosting’ service to an infringing website is sufficient to establish contributory copyright infringement. The court would therefore find that the [complaint] fails to allege facts establishing that Steadfast materially contributed to the infringement.”

The judge said that there is more web hosting companies to do, in order to be considered contributory infringers and the hosting companies are doing none of those things. He said that ALS Scan wants web hosting companies to do more than they’re legally obligated to do. But it can’t sue just because it doesn’t agree with their practices. Here is more from the court ruling:

[T]he only allegations specific to Steadfast that are raised in the SAC are that Steadfast “hosts” pirate sites, including Imagebam, and that Plaintiff has sent numerous notifications to Steadfast of infringing content on Imagebam, but Steadfast has failed to implement or enforce a repeat infringer policy by removing Imagebam from its servers.

Beyond that, ALS’s complaint contains nothing that shows evidence of its claims.

Steadfast also contends that the SAC fails to allege material contribution or inducement. The Court would agree. The SAC alleges only that Steadfast “hosts” pirate sites that feature infringing content. It is entirely unclear what services Steadfast provides to Imagebam; what type of infringing activity Imagebam conducts (or even what Imagebam is); or how Steadfast contributes to or facilitates that infringing activity. As such, the Court would find that the SAC fails to plead material contribution.

The same goes for the rest of the allegations. Steadfast (or other web hosts) didn’t produce or contribute to infringing activity at sites hosted on its network, nor did it somehow violate ALS’s trademarks by hosting websites where infringing images could be found.

As Judge Wu’s opinion points out, it’s not up to the court to determine whether sued websites are “responsive enough” to rightsholders’ demands. As websites and web hosts follow the statutory requirements and respond properly to an DMCA request, they’re insulated from most infringement claims.

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