Congressmen seek to clarify P2P rules.

The Department of Justice is weighing in with the most powerful Republican and Democratic copyright champions in Congress by filing amicus briefs in the MGM Studios v. Grokster Ltd. case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Acting Solicitor General Paul D. Clement and -- in an unusual action by members of Congress -- Sens. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., filed their "friend of the court" briefs yesterday (Jan. 24), urging the High Court to clarify copyright-infringement rules for P2P networks.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of P2P networks Grokster and StreamCast, holding them not liable for secondary copyright infringement for their decentralized versions of the software.

In siding with the entertainment industry, Clement wrote: "The evidence suggests that the respondents [Grokster and StreamCast] have developed vast networks of members whose only common characteristic is apparently their desire to download copyrighted music and movie files without paying for them."

While petitioners and respondents will be permitted to have only one attorney argue for each side before the Supreme Court on March 29, the Solicitor General will most likely be allowed to argue on behalf of the federal government as well, legal sources say.

At least 50 groups joined in filing amicus briefs, according to Donald Verrelli with Jenner & Block, who will argue the case before the High Court for the record and movie industries. Among them are the IFPI, NARM, the National Broadcasters Assn., the Songwriters Guild of America, Recording Artists Coalition, the Recording Academy, the American Federation of Musicians, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild.

The IFPI and other international organizations point out in a statement that the lower court's decision "not only affects U.S. rights owners but denies international rights owners effective protection in the U.S. against copyright infringement on a 'massive and unprecedented scale'. This puts the United States in breach of its obligations under international treaties which require enforcement measures that are effective in deterring and preventing piracy."

Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, members of Congress, 40 state Attorneys General, pro-family advocates, legal professors, legal online entertainment services and other copyright owners also filed briefs.