In a unanimous decision, the justices ruled companies that build businesses with the active intent of encouraging copyright infringement should be held liable for their customers’ illegal actions.
“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,” Justice David Souter wrote in the majority opinion.
The decision comes as a surprisingly strong victory for copyright companies and stands to reshape an Internet landscape in which the presence of widespread file swapping has become commonplace.
Monday’s ruling will give the recording industry and movie studios immediate ammunition to file lawsuits against other file-trading companies. It could also be a boon for legal music services such as Apple Computer’s iTunes, which could see their strongest competitor–freely downloadable songs–driven further underground.
The justices were reviewing a pair of lower court decisions in which both courts said that file-swapping companies such as Grokster were not liable for the copyright infringement of people using their software. The nation’s top court heard oral arguments on the case in late March.
Much more ore in the article.
The US continues to take the side of big business over the rights of fair use and I hope this will not prove to be a very damaging decision as time goes on.
This decision could still potentially overturn the previous Betamax ruling in the most horrible way possible.
Despite the statement below from the article, it will be very hard to maintain the fair use of goods we buy and technologists create, now that this ruling has happened.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the court did not need to modify the Betamax test in order to find the file-swapping software companies liable.
Maybe, maybe not. We will see …
DELETED item till I can do more investigation into this decision since there are some who feel that the Court was very careful in how they did this ruling.
Although I don’t do any filesharing due to the dangers on these networks to computer security, I do consider my fair use rights to be of great importance.
Here is the statement that makes me want to find out more information before jumping to what appeared to be an obvious assumption.
The statement comes from Tech Law Advisor Grokster Decision
The following statement is from Gigi B. Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, on the Grokster decision today: “Today’s Court decision in the Grokster case underscores a principle Public Knowledge has long promoted — punish infringers, not technology. The Court has sent the case back to the trial court so that the trial process can determine whether the defendant companies intentionally encouraged infringement. What this means is, to the extent that providers of P2P technology do not intentionally encourage infringement, they are exempt from secondary liability under our copyright law. The Court also acknowledged, importantly, that there are lawful uses for peer-to-peer technology, including distribution of electronic files ‘by universities, government agencies, corporations, and libraries, among others.’ The Court is clearly aware that any technology-based rule would have chilled technological innovation. That is why their decision today re-emphasized and preserved the core principle of Sony v. Universal City Studios — that technology alone can’t be the basis of copyright liability — and focused clearly and unambiguously on whether defendants engaged in intentional acts of encouraging infringement. The Court held expressly that liability for providing a technological tool such as the Grokster file-sharing client depends on ‘clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement.’ What this means is, in the absence of such clear expression or other affirmative acts fostering infringement, a company that provides peer-to-peer technology is not going to be secondarily liable under the Copyright Act.”
Let’s hope that what they say here about the Public Knowledge stance being promoted is true (and that it doesn’t mean the chipping away, little by little as big business sees potential to do so, pitting ordinary citizen’s rights to fair use and technology sector’s innovation against million dollar big business legal teams).
Some additional links of interest:
WSJ Grokster Roundtable – (non subscriber link, provided by Tech Law) – comments by various roundtable members including Michael Geist, James M. Burger, Denise M. Howell, Ernest Miller, Theodore B. Olson, John Palfrey and Christopher Ruhland
Despite the optimism by some, there are still other legal minds that are still concerned about some of the wording and how it could be interpreted. This worries me very much. Give an inch, they’ll take a mile.
I think we will likely have to watch even more closely in light of the dissenters as to how this decision might affect our fair use rights and freedoms as the lawyers vie for their big business clients in the days to come.