California Bill To Criminalize P2P Development

By Richard Menta 1/19/05

A bill has been introduced in the California legislature that will criminalize the development and distribution of P2P applications that do not have built-in provisions to stop the trading of copyrighted material.

Introduced by Senator Kevin Murray from Los Angeles, the bill is directly aimed at file sharing applications like Grokster and Morpheus who won a landmark case (in California) ruling that they are indeed legal as per the Supreme Court's Betamax ruling.

The U2 iPod is available on Amazon

In August the US Court of Appeals for the 9th circuit found Grokster not liable for contributory infringement. In that ruling the court stated this:

"Further, as we have observed, we live in a quicksilver technological environment with courts ill-suited to fix the flow of internet innovation. The introduction of new technology is always disruptive to old markets, and particularly to those copyright owners whose works are sold through well-established distribution mechanisms. Yet, history has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests, whether the new technology be a player piano, a copier, a tape recorder, a video recorder, a personal computer, a karaoke machine, or an MP3 player. Thus, it is prudent for courts to exercise caution before restructuring liability theories for the purpose of addressing specific market abuses, despite their apparent present magnitude."

Despite its eloquent plea to let market forces bring the issue of file trading to closure, the US Court of Appeals spoke of how the courts were ill-suited to to fix the issue, not law makers. This left it open for legislators from the country's media hub to tackle the issue.

If signed into law, Senator Murray's bill could cost P2P developers $2500 and a year in jail for not taking "reasonable care" to insure that their program cannot be used to swap copyrighted movies and music.

The California legislature and Govenor Arnold Schwarzenegger have been sympathetic to the media industries attempts to disrupt file trading. Last year they passed California State Bill 1506, which makes it a crime for that state's file traders to use a service like KaZaa or eDonkey without first supplying their emails to the state. That bill was sponsored by Senator Murray.

But even passage of the law does not guarantee success for the media industries as the Grokster/Morpheus case goes to the US Supreme Court in March. If the justices rule in favor of the file swap services, federal law will trump the state law.

But, if the Supreme Court rules against, the ruling just stipulates the case on constitutional grounds. The California law is left open to dictate what penalties will be involved. In this case, Senator Murray is seeking to go beyond civil liability and make certain development of file trading applications is a crime unless limitations are imposed. The bill would apply not just to California developers, but to out-of-state developers if their products are used by California natives.


Other MP3 stories:
iPod Shuffle Sells Out
The Digital Media Winners of 2004
The Digital Media Losers of 2004

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