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CloudFlare Fights Against Broad RIAA Censorship, And Wins

Posted by: , 17:29 AEST, Sun July 12, 2015

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Music industry's "overly broad" censorship attempt struck down by the courts
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CloudFlare has won a victory against the RIAA for what the content delivery network claims is a over-broad attempt at censorship.

Last year, the RIAA sued music streaming site Grooveshark and the two parties settled, with Grooveshark agreeing to shut down. Soon after, sites using the now defunct Grooveshark's branding appeared, trying to take advantage of the disappearance of one of the biggest music sites.

It was due to this that the RIAA sued CloudFlare, and other service providers, to try and shut down Grooveshark related websites.

To make it easier for themselves in future, and to avoid having to play an endless game of "whack-a-mole", the RIAA deliberately made their injunction against CloudFlare and others broad - by asking for any accounts and domain names featuring the term "grooveshark" to be blocked.

While the RIAA's injunction was granted by the courts, service providers fought back, arguing that censorship based on a single keyword, without even examining whether the site in question was breaking the law or not, was overly broad. CloudFlare argues that this kind of broad censorship ban will impact legitimate websites, and could limit free speech rights.

And CloudFlare's fear was justified, as the content delivery network was legally forced to follow the RIAA's initial injunction, and shut down many sites before the court could hear their arguments, including sites that were totally legitimate. One site that was shut down was, a single page site that was set up to protest the RIAA's censorship attempts - in one fell swoop, the RIAA not only managed to shut down piracy sites, but also sites that were exercising their free speech rights to criticise the music industry's copyright lobby.

The RIAA defended their actions, and instead said the responsibility to determine whether a site was infringing was the responsibility of CloudFlare, despite the RIAA being the only one capable of determining whether their own content has been infringed or not.

Fortunately for CloudFlare, District Court Judge Alison Nathan agreed that the RIAA's initial injunction was too broad, and instead, has ordered the RIAA to first identify specific sites that are infringing before asking CloudFlare to remove them (something that CloudFlare has said they are more than willing to accommodate). 

Judge Nathan did also order CloudFlare to close down any sites that it knew, without a doubt, that was infringing, but put the onus firmly on the RIAA to identify and inform CloudFlare about any potentially infringing sites.


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