California judge to rule on validity of Tarantino’s Gawker suit

Compare contributory infringement to aiding and abetting. An accessory knows about and assists with a crime in a subtle way, without getting his or her hands too dirty. An example might be storing stolen merchandise without taking part in a robbery – you’re guilty of facilitating the crime.

Movie maker Quentin Tarantino filed a lawsuit in January accusing Gawker Media of revealing his entire screenplay to the public. Tarantino had plans to produce the “The Hateful Eight” movie but scrapped the idea after Gawker’s published links to the script in a blog. Gawker wants a California judge to throw out the lawsuit, claiming the company could not be held as an accessory for copyright infringement that hasn’t occurred.

Gawker’s position is the company could not be guilty of contributory infringement, because the film director has no evidence of direct infringement. The motion to dismiss alleges Tarantino’s case is weak, because it supposes Gawker’s exposure of “The Hateful Eight” script would encourage infringement. The defendant asserted possible infringement was not actual infringement and, without direct proof, there could be no secondary liability case.

Tarantino claimed Gawker went too far by supplying the full screenplay to readers through third-party links. The filmmaker called Gawker’s style of journalism “predatory.” Gawker contended its publication of the links also followed fair use guidelines, which allow some copyrighted materials to be used due to public interest.

The U.S. Copyright Act has no provisions for secondary liability. Section 106 does give authors of intellectual property control over copies of their work and authority over parties who make copies. For a contributory infringement claim to stick, the plaintiff would have to show the defendant promoted, knew or should have known about infringement activities.

Intellectual property litigants’ motives seem to surround financial issues. Authors may feel more is at stake than money. Established ownership also has non-economic professional and personal value.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Gawker seeks dismissal of Quentin Tarantino copyright lawsuit” Oliver Gettell, Mar. 11, 2014