Supreme Court and Peer-to-Peer
In late June, the Supreme Court ruled on Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. Basically, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Grokster, and other similar peer-to-peer file-sharing services were legal because they were “capable of commercially significant noninfringing uses.” [based on Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios] MGM and other companies, of course, see significant copyright violations for commercial products being shared over these networks.
The Ninth Circuit’s ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court overturned the decision by a unanimous decision, stating:
The question is under what circumstances the distributor of a product capable of both lawful and unlawful use is liable for acts of copyright infringement by third parties using the product. We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.
So, this court case goes back to the Ninth Circuit to be retried, taking into consideration the information provided by the Supreme Court.
This decision has solidified a tenet that we, as librarians, have always known. Copyright infringement, in whatever guise, is illegal. Grokster and StreamCast (another peer-to-peer file-sharing company) tried to use an earlier decision that dealt with technicalities (Sony) as a defense, but it was their intent (copyright infringement) that was crucial.
Although this decision is interesting in itself, what I found more interesting were the headlines in the media. They all seem to think that peer-to-peer is dead. Development of new technologies will be slowed, current technologies may be illegal (iPods, instant messaging, Internet). The sky is falling!
However, if you read the actual decision, you see that it is the intent behind the technology that is important. iPods, instant messaging and the Internet are not “marketed” for illegal use. Can they be used that way? Yes. However, this is not what the text of the decision says.
Moral? Read the Supreme Court decisions yourselves! 😉