When a gossip website like to play with Samurai swords, sometimes things go wrong. Last week, the entertainment website Gawker linked to the leaked draft script of Quentin Tarantino's proposed upcoming film, The Hateful Eight. Now, Tarantino is suing the site for copyright infringement, claiming they promoted the dissemination of unauthorized downloadable copies of the script. And while Gawker tries desperately to refute that by alleging that it was just publishing the news, in fact, it acted like most other online pirates -- the site was entirely motivated by profit.
In fact, the original Gawker post that published news of the leak concludes by asking readers to "name names or leak the script to us, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org." Unsurprisingly, asking for leaked copyrighted material, publishing leaked copyrighted material and then gloating about publishing leaked copyrighted material makes a few enemies.
And yet, editor-in-chief John Cook pokes fun at Tarantino in his defense of Gawker's strategy, alleging that Tarantino "threw a temper tantrum" and "deliberately turned the leak into a story." Cook quotes Tarantino's interview to Deadline, "I do like the fact that everyone eventually posts it, gets it and reviews it on the net. Frankly, I wouldn't want it any other way. I like the fact that people like my shit, and that they go out of their way to find it and read it." The quote is entirely out of context, however, and is part of a larger scheme Gawker is trying to use to let itself off the hook. Being pleased that people like your work and want to see it is vastly different than having it taken from you, publicized and commented upon before it is complete.
And while piracy in all forms is reprehensible, pirating the unfinished draft of something impacts its outcome far more than the finished draft. A completed book, or album that is pirated will still be released as planned, though certainly with unfortunate monetary losses. An incomplete work that is pirated may lose investors, interested parties, or even participants because public reaction, fairly or unfairly, is seen as a proxy for the success of the project.
Moreover, this isn't the first time Gawker has been at the center of a copyright scandal. In 2012, the site published an illegally obtained copy of HBO starlet Lena Dunham's book proposal, which was eventually removed following the threat of legal action from her. And while Gawker may have had the curiosity of the legal world with Lena Dunham, now they definitely have its attention with Tarantino, as it tries to absolve itself by pointing out that it is not the original source of the leak. This is no different than when operators of cyberlockers allege that they cannot control what their users upload and they are just an innocent intermediary. Ultimately, Gawker actively promoted the dissemination of protected intellectual property in order to draw eyes to its website and make a quick buck.
There have been some reports that Gawker, in fighting the suit, will claim protection under the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. However, these rules are supposed to protect Internet Service Providers that are unaware of the illegal content being promoted on their site. But Gawker knew the link was to copyrighted material, (and in fact, as stated above, gloated over this), making this defense, at best, one of a silver tongued devil.
Though the link to the script is no longer active on Gawker, it seems unlikely that Tarantino will back down anytime soon. In fact, paraphrasing from Pulp Fiction, it appears that he is planning to strike down, with great vengeance and furious anger, those who would attempt to poison and destroy his upcoming artistic projects. More simply, if I were Gawker, I would seriously rethink my policy (and attitude) on copyright or risk more suits and bad publicity moving forward.
CORRECTION: A previous of this post incorrectly stated that John Cook is the managing editor of Gawker. Cook is the editor-in-chief of Gawker. The post has been updated to correct this. The post also stated incorrectly that Gawker removed Lena Dunham's book proposal following legal action. The post has been updated to clarify that the proposal was removed following the threat of legal action.