March 28, 2005 4:00 AM PST
Top court to hear landmark P2P case Tuesday
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by saying that technologies with "substantial noninfringing use" are legal, even if they are used in some cases for copyright piracy. That's protected the VCR, MP3 players and even personal computers from being taken off shelves.
Record labels and Hollywood studios say they don't want to overturn that test, but they do want to clarify it. Any company whose products are "predominately" used for copyright infringement--as they say the Grokster and Morpheus file-trading software is--should be held liable for that activity, they say.
That's a terrifying idea to much of the technology industry. Forcing manufacturers to evaluate how their products would be used before release, under threat of legal liability, would prevent much technological progress from happening at all, they say.
Mark Cuban to fund
Cuban says a Grokster
loss would create a
stifling legal environment
that would harm tech
"Such predications are impossible in the real world, especially since the uses to which products are put routinely change over time," semiconductor giant Intel wrote in a brief filed with the court. "Innovators such as Intel would grow timid (and) would have no choice but to withhold from the market socially and economically useful products."
The two sides will face each other in the Supreme Court halls on Tuesday morning, for a brief oral-argument period. Court watchers will listen carefully to the tone and content of the justices' questioning, but a final decision isn't expected until mid-June.
Even that isn't likely to settle the legal issues, however. The court has only the power to rule on what Congress has passed, and the losing side is likely to return to Capital Hill to seek legislation. In the end, the final lines of the Supreme Court's Betamax decision in 1984 may predict the future of file swapping two decades later.
"It may well be that Congress will take a fresh look at this technology, just as it so often has examined other innovations in the past," the court wrote then. "But it is not our job to apply laws that have not yet been written."
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