Forty state attorneys general and international organizations representing copyright holders, educators, sports figures and other interests are voicing their concerns over file sharing to the U.S. Supreme Court.
They filed separate amicus briefs Nov. 8 urging the justices to review an Aug. 19 Appeals Court decision that held that peer-to-peer services Grokster and StreamCast Networks were not liable for copyright infringement committed by users of the “decentralized” versions of their software. The “friends of the court” filings-arguments offered by those who have direct interests in the effect of a court’s decision-are unprecedented in number.
Major motion-picture studios, record labels and a class of 27,000 music publishers and songwriters brought the lawsuit in 2001. After the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which covers one aspect of the ongoing case, the plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court Oct. 8 for a review.
The plaintiffs argue in part that the court misinterpreted the 1984 Supreme Court decision known as the Sony/Betamax case, which held that makers of videotape recorders are not liable for copyright infringement by users of the machines, since the devices are capable of legal use (to record programs for private use).
In one of the amicus briefs, a group representing “hundreds of thousands” of rights holders in more than 100 countries argues that the decision has a harmful effect on intellectual property law. The brief encourages the Supreme Court to ensure “that the United States does not falter in its responsibilities under various international agreements . . . by permitting a safe haven for entities to set up businesses deliberately designed to enable copyright infringement on a massive scale.”
The 40 attorneys general argue that P2P networks are becoming “havens for non-copyright-related criminal activity” involving pornography and concealment of crimes. They say that their efforts to enforce laws are “obstructed by a legal standard that permits companies, who facilitate not only the conduct but also the anonymity of perpetrators, to escape any responsibility for their role in these crimes.”
In another brief, law professors did not take a position on what the outcome of the case should be, but they urged the court to review the decision so that copyright authors and technology developers “will be able to reliably predict their legal rights and duties in a networked world.” If they don’t, the professors say, “innovation in both the arts and technology will suffer.”
The National Basketball Assn. and the baseball commissioner filed a brief with other organizations representing photographers, directors, writers, actors, publishers, producers, graphic artists, entertainment and video software dealers and interactive entertainment merchants. They seek to protect their intellectual-property rights.
Two briefs were filed on behalf of the Recording Artists’ Coalition, the Recording Academy and several individual artists, unions and music organizations.
In their response, Grokster and StreamCast argue that the Supreme Court should not review the case or pre-empt the efforts of Congress to legislate rights as they relate to new technology.