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The Top Five Most Outrageous Copyright Cases Of All Time

From Shepard Fairey to the Pirates of the Amazon project, here’s the stuff that made us go “Oh no they didn’t!”.

by Kevin Holmes
Jun 14 2012, 11:43am

Copyright. It’s an ugly word in these digital times when the great internet SOPA battle is still fresh in our minds and The Pirate Bay has a “physibles” section. But it wasn’t always this way, was it? Well, no. Have you not seen the final part of Kirby Ferguson’s Everything Is A Remix? Blame the market economy. Since its inception, it’s caused the downfall of the free trade of ideas, waving the threat of a cease and desist order arriving in your mailbox at every turn.

In an age when YouTube’s Content ID throws its weight around policing potential copyright infringement, despite a large part of YouTube’s content being copyright infringing fan-made music videos, mashups, remixes, and supercuts, what’s a person to think?

What the future holds for the murky laws of copyright in the age of the internet, we can but speculate. Let’s just hope the words “copyright infringement” are no longer in the English language by the end of the next decade. Or if they are, it’s because it’s an epic TV series about the early 21st century copyright battles that we’ve all watched via peer-to-peer file sharing.

So, in homage to this fast approaching utopian future, here are the top five most outrageous copyright cases of all time until the end of the known universe. Amen.

Shepard Fairey’s Obama Poster

It’s certainly an iconic image that, if you’ll pardon me a massive sweeping generalization completely unsupported by facts, won Obama the election. But boy did it turn out to be a complete ballache for Shepard Fairey. The Associated Press started making claims that the poster was based on an AP photo and so violated their copyright. A messy debacle ensued where Fairey first claimed he’d used a different photo and sued AP. Then he admitted that this wasn’t exactly the case, meaning he’d made false statements to a federal judge and falsified evidence, destroying documents and manufacturing others. Uh-oh. He pleaded guilty to a criminal contempt charge and now faces the consequences—which could be six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. He’ll be sentenced next month.

Pirates of the Amazon

Back in 2008 a Firefox extension let users illegally download games, TV shows, films, ebooks, and music for free by cross referencing’s product pages with torrent files from the Pirate Bay. The add-on allowed for a “Download 4 Free” button to show on the product page so people could download for free what they were going to buy. And it did it in December, the busiest time of year for online retailers. Amazon fought back by serving the ISP of the two students who created the extension with a take-down notice and the students removed the add-on. Afterwards, perhaps not wanting to feel the wrath of Amazon’s lawyers, the students claimed it was an artistic experiment. Seized By Police

In February this year, the UK law enforcement, namely SOCA (Serious Organized Crime Agency), took time out from making appearances at the Leveson Inquiry to seize R&B website (if you click on that link you’ll be greeted with the threatening message above). Not content with shutting down websites at will, they also warned users (probably mostly kids and teenagers) who had downloaded music from the site that they could face up to ten years in prison. SOCA claimed the music on the website was illegally obtained from artists and said that “Members of the public can become facilitators of organized crime by obtaining property or services from its perpetrators”. Whatev!

Megaupload Shutdown

A month before was seized by the police, Megaupload—one of the largest file-sharing sites on the web—was shut down. Its founders were charged with violating piracy laws and accused of costing copyright holders over $500m, The arrest of Kim Dotcom and his colleagues led to a counter attack by Anonymous on the FBI and US Department of Justice websites in what is one of the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States.

Star Wars vs. Battlestar Galactica

It’s good to know that with all the current madness surrounding copyright infringement, even back in the ‘70s people were getting all worked up about it. 20th Century Fox sued Universal Studios claiming that they’d stolen 34 ideas from Star Wars for their TV series Battlestar Galactica. But Universal Studios weren’t going out like that and so hit back by countersuing, claiming that Star Wars had actually stolen loads of ideas from Universal’s Silent Running and the Buck Rogers movies of the 1930s. The reality is they’d both stolen ideas from many works of fiction from down the ages. And so it goes.