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Wednesday, March 30, 2005
File sharing goes to the Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court will begin hearings on MGM Studios v Grokster, a dispute that could make peer-to-peer (P2P) software impossible to use.

The case is to decide whether companies that develop P2P software are liable if it is used to share pirated media. MGM lost the original case in 2003 and the appeal at the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals last August.

"For the past century, copyright litigation in this country has been an endlessly repeating cycle," said Michael Page of law firm Keker & Van Nest, counsel for Grokster.

"Time and again, the corporations that control both artistic content and the current method of distributing that content ask the courts to protect them against new and better technologies by banning those technologies.

"Time and again, the courts have refused to extend the copyright monopoly, and have allowed new technologies to develop and mature to the benefit of artists, the public and the very corporations that sought to ban them."

If Grokster, and co-defendant StreamCast Networks, lose the case they will face huge legal action from recording and movie studios, as will other P2P software developers.

The companies would conceivably have to pay a fine for every piece of copyrighted media shared over the P2P networks.

The case hinges on interpretation of the 1984 Betamax case over the video recorder, when the courts ruled that the devices were "capable of substantial non-infringing uses" and stopped any attempts to ban the technology.

Action against P2P networks has attracted fierce protest and this case is no exception. Mark Cuban, the billionaire behind Broadcast.com, has pledged in his blog to cover Grokster's legal costs.

"We want our content to get to the customer in the way the customer wants to receive it, when they want to receive it, and at a price that is of value to them," he writes.

"If Grokster loses to MGM in the Supreme Court technological innovation might not die, but it will have such a significant price tag associated with it [that] it will be the domain of the big corporations only."

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