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Supreme Court To Hear Peer-2-Peer Client Grokster Case

Chris Richardson
Staff Writer
Published: 2005-03-28

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P2P client Grokster and MGM Studios are preparing to face in Supreme Court on Tuesday in a case having broad ramifications towards the use and sharing of entertainment-based properties.

According to Wired.com, the MGM Studios vs. Grokster "pits all the major movie studios and record labels against Grokster and StreamCast Networks, two operators of file-sharing services." The Supreme Court will see the case after a the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Grokster's developers were not liable when users of their client violate various copyright laws.

This Appeals Court decision followed the ruling of the 1984 Supreme Court Sony Betamax case. The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes the ramifications of the Betamax case as:

Sony v. Universal Studios, or the Betamax case, is a landmark copyright case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1984 that has sheltered a wide array of technology innovators from lawsuits at the hands of the entertainment industries. In fact, it is thanks to the Betamax ruling that the makers of not just VCRs, but also every other technology capable of being used for infringement (e.g., photocopiers, personal computers, Cisco routers, CD burners, and Apple's iPod) can continue to sell their wares without fear of lawsuits from copyright owners.

Wired goes on to reveal the Supreme Court should have a decision by June concerning the Grokster/MGM trial.

Because Grokster is relying on the Betamax decision and the EFF is representing StreamCast during these hearings, it is important to understand their position:

It is remarkable to compare the arguments the entertainment industry is making against P2P in 2005 to the ones it made against the VTR (what they called VCRs back then) in 1982. A comparison makes it clear that the entertainment industry is in 2005 trying to roll back the protections established more than twenty years earlier in the Betamax case.

In their synopsis, the EFF provided a table demonstrating the similarities between the Grokster case and the Betamax ruling:


"By design, Grokster and StreamCast are used overwhelmingly for infringement."


"The district court expressly found pervasive librarying activities, and the uncontroverted survey evidence established that 69% to 75% of all Betamax owners maintain large libraries of off-the-air recordings and that the vast majority of programs in those libraries are copyrighted motion pictures.... This same survey shows that less than 9% of all recordings consists of religious (0%), educational (1.6%), and sports (7.3%) programs -- the type of material purportedly owned by most of the limited number of witnesses who testified that they did not object to VTR copying."

The Supreme Court nevertheless held that the use of the Betamax to record programs authorized for recording, less than 9% of uses, was a substantial noninfringing use sufficient to protect Sony from copyright liability.


"...Grokster and StreamCast have chosen not to implement available technologies that would block or filter infringing content on their networks."


"[Noninfringing] uses could also continue if petitioners were directed to devise a technological means to prevent VTR copying only of programs owned by respondents and others who object to such copying."

Disney and Universal claimed that an inexpensive "jamming" circuit could be inexpensively added to the Betamax that would respond to a "broadcast flag" embedded in TV broadcasts.


"Unlike the defendant in Sony Betamax, Grokster and StreamCast have done far more than merely sell a product with the constructive knowledge that some buyers might put it to infringing use."


"Since petitioners' advertisements, brochures and instruction manuals unquestionably cause, urge, encourage and aid VTR purchasers to infringe respondents' copyrights, petitioners are liable by analogy to [patent law] notwithstanding their claim that VTRs are staple articles of commerce.... [P]etitioners' advertisements "exhort" Betamax purchasers to record "favorite shows," "movies," "classic movies" and "novels for television" and to "build a library."


"Infringing content is the powerful magnet that draws users to respondents' services and fuels their profits.... [T]here is no evidence that these noninfringing uses would attract a single user, much less enough users to create commercially sustainable networks."


"Unlike cameras, typewriters and Xerox machines, whose primary market is derived from non-infringing uses, there would be little, if any, market for VTRs if they could not be used for infringing purposes. Petitioners' unwillingness to devise a technological means of preventing copying of copyrighted works makes plain that without the ability to make unconsented copies of the copyrighted motion pictures owned by respondents and amici, there would be little if any market for VTRs."

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About the Author:
Chris Richardson is a search engine writer and editor for WebProNews. Visit WebProNews for the latest search news.

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