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New legal battle, in the US, could have significant implications for US copyright law

Posted by: Laurence Simons 10/10/14

The US legal market is nothing if not a busy one - often with some rather remarkable lawsuits. Members of the public and even legal practitioners in other countries may occasionally marvel at the scope and reach of legal cases; after all, this was where McDonald's was first sued for not providing adequate warning that the contents of a cup of hot chocolate might indeed be more than lukewarm.

However, the latest stateside case to capture global attention may be even more interesting. Celebrity attorney Martin Singer, representing some even more famous clients, is threatening to launch an action against Google, alleging that it was complicit in helping cyber-criminals spread pictures of the rich, famous and unclothed across the web in the recent smartphone hacking scandal.

His contention is that when his firm Lavely & Singer wrote to various internet firms asking them to take down the images, Google was too slow to remove the offending pictures and thus reached the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Google is certainly not taking this lying down. A spokesperson said: "We've removed tens of thousands of pictures - within hours of the requests being made - and we have closed hundreds of accounts." 

"The internet is used for many good things. Stealing people’s private photos is not one of them."

Having set out their initial positions in the battle, this may be a long-running fight. After all, a class action by some distinctly well-heeled celebrities keen not to be seen too much in the wrong way - such as without their clothes - will be very well funded, as would Google's own lawyers. This could mean the battle goes a long way and becomes a test case for the way in which the copyright law is applied.

As such, the embarrassment suffered by various Hollywood actresses, models, athletes and others whose privacy was violated may end up having wider implications for copyright law - one that may have uncertain consequences for all kind of users of online images , not just those whose actions make the headlines.