Supreme Court: Grokster v Hollywood, Reloaded

By Jon Newton 1/26/05

About the only thing Hollywood hasn't thrown into the fray as it desperately tries to get the US Supreme Court to overturn a decision already agreed by two other courts, is the kitchen sink.

Oral arguments in the MGM v Grokster will be heard on March 29 when Hollywood will again try to use its financial and political might to browbeat America’s top court into ruling p2p companies can be held responsible if customers use their p2p software to infringe copyrights.

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The studios, with the Big Music cartel and major software companies right behind them, have already lost the argument in District Court, and again at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now the, “Bush administration's top lawyer and the Christian Coalition threw their weight behind the entertainment industry,” says ZDNet, which also points out:

“Although focused on the issue of file swapping, the Supreme Court case is likely to be one of the most widely watched legal tussles in the technology world this year. Legal observers say the outcome of the case could affect virtually every consumer electronics and computer manufacturer, as well as software and entertainment companies.”

That explains why such deeply involved bodies as Concerned Women for America and Morality in Media are backing the entertainment industry.

In the meanwhile, “Twenty-eight of the world's largest entertainment companies brought the lawsuit against the makers of the Morpheus, Grokster, and KaZaA software products, aiming to set a precedent to use against other technology companies (P2P and otherwise),” says the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) which is representing Morpheus owner StreamCast Networks.

“As we noted in our arguments before the Ninth Circuit, the case raises a question of critical importance at the border between copyright and innovation: When should the distributor of a multi-purpose tool be held liable for the infringements that may be committed by end-users of the tool?”

The Supreme Court's landmark decision in Sony Corporation of America v Universal City Studios (the Sony Betamax ruling) ruled a distributor can’t held liable for users' infringement as long as the ‘tool’ is capable of substantial noninfringing uses.

“In MGM v. Grokster, the Ninth Circuit found that P2P file-sharing software is capable of, and is in fact being used for, noninfringing uses,” says the EFF. “Relying on the Betamax precedent, the court ruled that the distributors of Grokster and Morpheus software cannot be held liable for users' copyright violations. The plaintiffs appealed, and in December 2004 the Supreme Court granted certiorari.”

Visit the EFF’s MGM v Grokster site for chapter and verse.


Jon Newton is the editor of and is a regular contributer to MP3 Newswire. Jon's site is devoted to the politics of digital music and his insights as well as those of his co-writers can be read there. We urge you to explore it.

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