Perfect 10 Gets a Surprising Partial Sumary Judgment in 512 Case–Perfect 10 v. Yandex

By Eric Goldman

Perfect 10, Inc. v. Yandex N.V., 2013 WL 1899851 (N.D.Cal. May 7, 2013)

shutterstock_63115051.jpgFew names strike as much fear–and derision–among Internet lawyers as Perfect 10. Perhaps the quintessential Internet Law plaintiff of the 2000s decade, Perfect 10 went on a dubious litigation campaign filled with precedent-setting losses and massive legal bills for all participants. Perfect 10 won a ruling here and there, but for the most part, Perfect 10’s courtroom efforts have been a categorical failure. Indeed, few plaintiffs have created more favorable Internet Law precedent than Perfect 10.

Thus, it’s a little disorienting/surprising to see Perfect 10 win anything in court, even if it’s a small preliminary ruling. Perfect 10’s target in this lawsuit is Yandex, the Dutch company operating the leading Russian search engine. In this ruling, the parties are wrangling over Yandex’s ability to qualify for the 512 safe harbors.

Consistent with its past (and IMO unnecessarily sloppy) practices, Perfect 10 didn’t send a prototypical 512(c)(3) notice. Instead, one takedown notice it sent consisted of:

a cover email attaching the DMCA notice. Next, there was an attached PDF file. The PDF file began with a short DMCA notice letter that described the contents of the DMCA notice itself and requested that the images be taken down. The notice letter was followed by several pages of screen shots from Yandex’s own image search web sites. The screen shots showed the allegedly-copyrighted images in Yandex’s search results along with corresponding links to the party directly hosting the content. In many instances the links to the third-party sites were truncated, but it was possible to copy the whole link by right-clicking on the image in the file. At the end of each sample notice was a single screen shot from Perfect 10’s own website that included the allegedly copyrighted images in a four-by-four grid of images.

Yandex raised several objections to this notice. Yandex says that Perfect 10’s notices should be reviewed in combination with the others because the aggregated workload processing the many PDFs it received was unnecessarily high, but the court accepts Perfect 10’s request just to look at this one. (That turned out to be an uncharacteristically savvy litigation move from Perfect 10). The court is unmoved by Yandex’s beef that it’s burdensome to extract the full URLs from the PDF and to match the screen shots to the thumbnails. The court thinks these obligations are within the scope of the service providers’ responsibilities, and because Perfect 10 asked the judge to evaluate just one takedown notice in isolation, the court denigrates the amount of work required for Yandex to review each notice in isolation (calling Yandex’s gripe “disingenous” at one point). Thus, the court grants Perfect 10’s summary judgment request that this PDF takedown notice satisfied 512(c)(3).

(An aside: I find it incredible that Perfect 10’s PDF approach was the most efficient way to prepare 512(c)(3) notices. It seems almost like Perfect 10 was trying to satisfy the minimum 512(c)(3) requirements using the most onerous and expensive approach for recipients. They wouldn’t be that devious…would they? At minimum, Perfect 10 could have saved itself a lot of future litigation time and expense by sending more traditional notices.)

Yandex also categorically loses any 512(c) safe harbors for the period of time it didn’t have a designated agent for service of notice, a step that didn’t happen before 2012. Designating an agent is a clear minimum requirement for 512(c) protection, but it highlights the challenges faced by some foreign defendants. It sort of makes sense that a European search engine wouldn’t satisfy a US formality, but Yandex was big enough that it should have checked off this box. Whoops.

If history has any predictive power, Perfect 10 will ultimately lose this lawsuit. Still, Perfect 10 got a couple of favorable points out of this ruling. To me, that reinforces the structural design failings of 512’s safe harbor.

See more blog posts on Perfect 10.

[Photo credit: Play on ten. Success metaphor // ShutterStock]