Trade Groups Turn To Supreme Court In Grokster Case

The RIAA, National Music Publishers Assn. and Songwriters Guild of America are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Grokster case.

The RIAA, National Music Publishers Assn. and Songwriters Guild of America are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Grokster case. The groups today (Oct. 8) filed a petition to the court to review the Aug. 19 decision of the Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals in the case, which centers on the liability of peer-to-peer services in copyright infringement.

The Appeals Court ruled that the Grokster and StreamCast P2P services were not liable for contributory infringement of the music and movie files illegally downloaded by their users.

The main question presented to the High Court in the petition is "whether the Ninth Circuit erred in concluding, contrary to long-established principles of secondary liability in copyright law (and in acknowledged conflict with the Seventh Circuit), that the Internet-based 'file sharing' services Grokster and StreamCast should be immunized from copyright liability for the millions of daily acts of copyright infringement that occur on their services and that constitute at least 90% of the total use of the services."

The Seventh Circuit case referenced in the petition refers to a 2003 ruling that affirmed an injunction against P2P service Aimster.

The petioners also say that the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court misinterpreted the 1984 Sony-Betamax case, which ruled that technology "does not constitute contributory infringement if the product is widely used for legitimate, unobjectionable purposes, or, indeed, is merely capable of substantial noninfringing uses."

The petitioners argue that the Ninth Circuit "has encouraged infringement-driven services to shield themselves from liability by designing their services to disable their ability to block infringement. The ... rule thus fosters a peculiar kind of 'innovation' -- it incents enterprises to 'innovate' by disabling a system's capacity to prevent infringing uses, irrespective of whether such innovation otherwise makes sense from a business or technical perspective. Sony-Betamax cannot possibly have intended that result, and copyright law cannot withstand it."

The petition does not guarantee that the Supreme Court will review the case. Thousands of petitions are presented annually, but only a few dozen are chosen. Industry veterans hope the court may want to clarify the discrepency between the two Appeals Court rulings, in light of the harm being done to the industries from file-sharing.

The Supreme Court has shown a recent interest in copyright issues. It took on the challenge to the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, finding that the Congress had a right to extend the length of copyright protection for creators and their descendents.

Music publishers last month had said they were planning to petition the High Court.


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