New Hurdles for Digital Culture

This morning, the Supreme Court ruled in the MGM Studios v. Grokster(PDF link) case, a long-awaited decision on whether peer-to-peer filesharing networks can be held liable for users sharing pirated, copyrighted materials.

In short: the Supremes ruled 9-0 against Grokster, but it's not a clear victory for the MPAA. As professor Michael Geist wrote in an ongoing Wall Street Journal Roundtable on the decision, "Grokster certainly didn't win this case, but more importantly, P2P technology didn't lose."

The film and music industries' representatives wanted a unanimous ruling against Grokster and StreamCast: these companies urged users to steal copyrighted materials, they argued, and how will artists get paid if this goes unpunished? On the other hand, while "copyfighters" probably couldn't hope for a Grokster win, groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation urged the Supremes to uphold the principles in the Betamax case, which says that developers of a technology can't be held responsible for potentially illegal uses of their inventions. If the court overturned this idea, copyfighters say, technological innovation would essentially hit a brick wall.

What the ruling does say is that companies intentionally profiting from copyright infringement can be held liable. What it does not say, to the great relief of software developers and the EFF, is that companies can be held liable for infringement by users of its software.

Much, much more discussion on Grokster and other Supremes rulings at the SCOTUS blog.

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