Grokster Loses Supreme Court Battle

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In a unanimous decision, the highest court in the land found that Grokster promoted its service as a means of infringing copyright.

Lots of panic and rhetoric have been coursing over the Internet today, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of a lower court’s decision on file-swapping.

In MGM vs. Grokster, the Supreme Court has found that file-swapping services can be liable for the actions of people who use the service to infringe on copyrighted material, but with an important condition.

As noted in the legal opinion written by Justice Souter, this decision only impacts certain services:

We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.

The Court’s opinion is that the services Grokster and StreamCast promoted their services as suited to infringe upon the lawful copyrights of intellectual property holders. Today’s decision does expose those services to what will certainly be a slew of lawsuits from the various entertainment industry associations.

For products that have billed themselves as file sharing services, such as BitTorrent and eDonkey among many others, they seem to be unaffected by this decision. These services do not bill themselves as an easy workaround for copyright issues.

That does not mean the entertainment industry won’t try to target them next. In its decision, the Court has again not directly addressed the issue of file-sharing itself. The Court’s stance on distribution of a service with intent to promote copyright infringement is repeated a couple of times in Justice Souter’s opinion on behalf of the Court, with the condition of intention to promote illegal activity clearly written.

But the Court, as many Courts have done in the past, has chosen to sidestep an uncomfortable broader issue and left file-sharing in itself without an opinion from the Justices.

David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business. Email him here.

Grokster Loses Supreme Court Battle
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