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Away From Home

Monday, June 27, 2005

Grokster decision

The Supreme Court ruled today that companies offering file-sharing software can be held liable for copyright infringement (CNN.com, Full text):

In MGM v. Grokster, the high court unanimously overturned a ruling that had barred Hollywood and the music industry from suing Internet services used by consumers to swap songs and movies for free.

"One who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright ... is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties using the device, regardless of the device's lawful uses," Justice David Souter wrote in the ruling.

The issue in this case was whether companies such as Grokster, Napster, etc, can be held liable for the illegal copyright infringement of its users, even if the software is capable of noninfringing uses as well.

The file-sharing companies said that all they provide is a platform to share and discover files. They argued that they have no control over how someone uses the software, including whether it's used to share copyrighted or non-copyrighted material.

On the other hand, Hollywood and the music industry argued that even if the companies don't have control over how someone uses the software, the companies are fully aware of how their software is being used, and in fact design their software specifically to profit off of copyrighted material.

Obviously, Hollywood and the music industry won.

The surprising thing to me is not that the case came out as it did, but rather that it was unanimous. All nine justices agreed.

One technology that's left in the air as the result of this ruling is BitTorrent. BitTorrent is an application that is being increasingly used to share large files, because it transfers from multiple people at once (meaning the downloads can occur very quickly). One of the biggest uses of BitTorrent is for transferring Linux installations, which typically reach 1 GB or more in size, and which are not only legal to share, but are encouraged to be shared. My initial feeling is that BitTorrent can be distinguished from Grokster (meaning that it wouldn't be subject to this ruling), but I can't say for sure until I've read the Grokster decision in full.


  • Wow, I was there for those arguments.

    Now if only I hadn't been so damned sick from the previous day and could've put a story together.

    By Blogger Logan C. Adams, at 6/27/2005 02:37:00 PM  

  • So does this mean it's still cool for me to use LimeWire?

    By Blogger ChrisHarrop, at 6/27/2005 04:32:00 PM  

  • well, you want to use it as much as possible while you still can, I guess.

    By Blogger Logan C. Adams, at 6/27/2005 04:48:00 PM  

  • The decision didn't deal with regular users, only the companies providing and profiting off of the software.

    By Blogger Scott, at 6/27/2005 06:39:00 PM  

  • It looks to me like BitTorrent does not fall within Grokster liability. One of the main uses for BitTorrent is the distribution of Linux installations, which can easily reach 1GB or more in size. Of course, it's being used to distribute albums and movies too. However, the most that Bram Cohen (inventor and developer of BitTorrent) is guilty of is willful blindness, which I would argue is outside the bounds of Grokster.

    By Blogger Scott, at 6/28/2005 06:54:00 PM  

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