A federal judge considering an Internet copyright case said yesterday (Nov. 25) he was inclined to allow U.S. record companies and movie studios to sue the Australia-based parent company of KaZaA, a popular online file-swapping service.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) filed the copyright-infringement lawsuit against KaZaA in October 2001, alleging that it catered to the unlawful exchange of music, movies, software, and images.
Judge Stephen Wilson heard arguments in a Los Angeles court on whether Sharman Networks, which is headquartered in Australia and incorporated in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, is subject to U.S. copyright laws. “It is a difficult question, but it has to be resolved,” Wilson said. “The court will do its best to resolve it promptly.”
Although Wilson did not indicate when he plans to issue a ruling, he appeared to tip his hand, noting that he “would be inclined to find there’s jurisdiction against Sharman.”
The plaintiffs maintain that the companies are aware that the services are being used to facilitate copyright infringement on a massive scale for movies and music, that they built and controlled the networks in a way that could easily prevent the copyright infringements from occurring, and that they are making millions in the bargain.
The case is one of the largest in the recent copyright wars testing the international reach of U.S. courts. If the judge decides Sharman can be sued, the company would be thrust into the same legal predicament that have stymied popular online music services such as Napster and Aimster.
David Casselman, an attorney representing Sharman, said holding the company liable for copyright violations would be akin to prosecuting a computer manufacturer for the actions of computer hackers.
However, David Kendall, an attorney representing six movie studios, including Disney, Fox and Paramount, said the fact that Sharman’s product is available in this country is sufficient cause to face trial in a U.S. court. “It does not violate due process to have them stand here to answer for their conduct,” Kendall said.
Sharman attorney Rod Dorman countered that such a move could open a door for a judge in “communist China” to rule against U.S. companies that operate online. The judge did not appeared swayed by the argument. “I’ll take my chances with that judge in communist China,” Wilson quipped.
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