A good copyright ruling from a wise judge means you still don’t need to care what a CDN is or does

Many people are unaware of what a “Content Delivery Network” (CDN) is, or does, even though they probably make use of one hundreds of times a day. And that’s fine: a CDN is just part of the Internet’s plumbing. Typically, it is a global network of computers that “cache” – store copies of – digital material around the world so that Internet users everywhere can access it more quickly.

Most big sites pay CDNs like Cloudflare to improve the delivery of their services, but so do many smaller ones, including those engaged in copyright infringement. Even though CDNs are just providing the plumbing, from time to time they have been sued on the grounds that they are “helping” the infringement by doing so. Here, for example, is a US case brought in 2018, and recently decided:

Mon Cheri Bridals and Maggie Sottero Designs sell wedding dresses online. But their sales numbers and brand reputations are damaged by the proliferation of counterfeit retailers that sell knock-off dresses using the plaintiffs’ copyrighted images. The plaintiffs have gone after the infringers in a range of actions, but to no avail – every time a website is successfully shut down, a new one takes its place. In an effort to more effectively stamp out infringement, the plaintiffs now go after a service common to many of the infringers: Cloudflare. The plaintiffs claim that Cloudflare contributes to the underlying copyright infringement by providing infringers with caching, content delivery, and security services.

That’s from Judge Vince Chhabria’s three-page judgment, which dismissed the argument that Cloudflare should be held responsible for what flows through its system:

Because a reasonable jury could not – at least on this record – conclude that Cloudflare materially contributes to the underlying copyright infringement, the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is denied and Cloudflare’s motion for summary judgment is granted.

It’s an important verdict, because it confirms that those providing infrastructure-related services – the plumbing – should not be held responsible for what others do with those services – what flows through the plumbing. The situation is the same as not holding telephone companies responsible for what people say when they make calls. It means that you can carry on using a CDN when you go online without worrying about what it is or does.

Despite court rulings to the contrary, the copyright industry continues to assert that everyone even remotely linked to copyright infringement, and however immaterially, should be punished. As a consequence, there will doubtless be more cases like the one against Cloudflare. Already, another key part of the Internet’s plumbing is under attack in Germany, this time by the music industry. Let’s hope there are similarly wise judges who dismiss these cases just as summarily.

Featured image by pxfuel.

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