March 29, 2005 11:29 AM PST
Supreme Court may redefine file swapping
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widespread copyright infringement. They're asking the Supreme Court to rule that any company whose business is predominantly supported by piracy should be liable for that infringement.
The case has sparked strong emotions across the country, with technology companies and artists each contending that their livelihoods and freedom to innovate are at risk. Dueling protesters lined the sidewalks outside the court building before the hearing got under way. Supporters of file sharing wore black T-shirts and carried signs proclaiming "Save Betamax" and "RIAA keep your hands off my iPod."
A group of 18 singer-songwriters from Nashville, Tenn., carried guitars and signs reading "Feed a musician. Download legally."
"We're here to give a face to people being hurt by illegal downloads," said Erin Enderlin, one of the songwriters. "When we don't get paid, we can't pay our rent."
Grokster attorney Richard Taranto said the issue of past "inducement" had not yet been litigated at the lower court level, and so was not in front of the Supreme Court. Hollywood lawyer Donald Verrilli said the top court should not let the lower court rulings stand, because they would undermine any further review of whether the peer-to-peer companies were actively encouraging piracy.
As with any Supreme Court hearing, the questions cannot serve as a predictor of a final ruling. But backers of the peer-to-peer companies took heart in the justices' focus on the danger to other technology developers.
"The Supreme Court asked exactly the right question: How do we preserve innovation?" said Fred von Lohmann, an Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney who represents StreamCast Networks. "How do we protect the innovator in a garage who's inventing the next iPod?"
But entertainment executives said that the court seemed to be looking for a way to protect copyrights.
"There was clearly discomfort with the conduct of Grokster," said Mitch Bainwol, chief executive officer of the Recording Industry Association of America.
Indeed, many legal observers say the high court is likely to leave the law largely as is, and leave any substantial changes to Congress
"I think the court is going to affirm (the lower-court rulings)," said Ronald Katz, a copyright attorney with Manatt Phelps & Philips. "This doesn't fit in with the way copyright law is written. But it's not surprising that the law doesn't fit with something that didn't exist at the time the law was made."
CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.
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