By Kim Zetter, Wired News, September 30, 2004
Students who sued Diebold Election Systems won their case against the voting machine maker on Thursday after a judge ruled that the company had misused the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and ordered the company to pay damages and fees. Lawyers for the students call the move a victory for free speech.
A judge for the California district court ruled that the company knowingly misrepresented that the students had infringed the company's copyright and ordered the company to pay damages and fees to two students and a nonprofit internet service provider, Online Policy Group.
Judge Jeremy Fogel wrote in his decision that "no reasonable copyright holder could have believed that portions of the e-mail archive discussing possible technical problems with Diebold's voting machines were protected by copyright." The judge ruled that Diebold "knowingly materially misrepresented" that the students and ISP had infringed Diebold's copyright.
Wendy Seltzer, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said she hopes the decision will encourage ISPs to resist takedown demands from companies that use the DMCA to bar the speech of their clients. Seltzer said she hoped the decision would show colleges and ISPs that they shouldn't cave because they think litigation will be too expensive and useless.
The ruling makes Diebold the first company to be held liable for violating section 512(f) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it unlawful to use the DMCA takedown threats when the copyright holder knows that infringement hasn't occurred.
"We weren't out to get Diebold," Seltzer said. "We were out to crack down on the misuse of copyright threats. It's a matter of showing Diebold and companies that there is a cost to making false threats and to show ISPs that they have a remedy if they feel they are being unfairly threatened. It's not free to threaten infringement when there's no good faith claim for infringement."