Academics, artists back file-sharing firms before high court

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Wed Mar 2 09:56:18 PST 2005


The Lexington Dispatch

Article published Mar 2, 2005
Academics, artists back file-sharing firms before high court

AP Business Writer

 Several major technology companies, consumer groups and academics want the
U.S. Supreme Court to stay out of a long-running legal dispute between
online file-sharing firms and the entertainment industry.

Recording companies and Hollywood movie studios are appealing to the high
court to reverse lower court decisions that absolved Grokster Inc. and
StreamCast Networks of responsibility when their customers illegally swap
songs and movies using their software.

The tech firms and others argue that a court victory by the entertainment
companies would stifle innovation in the technology sector.

In briefs filed Tuesday, Grokster, StreamCast and their supporters urged
the court not to reinterpret the legal doctrine it established in the 1984
Sony Betamax case. At the time, the court ruled that Sony's video recorder
was legal because it had legitimate uses apart from making unauthorized
copies of movies and television shows.

The entertainment industry has asked the court to reconcile the 20-year-old
ruling to protect copyright holders it says are hard-pressed to safeguard
their intellectual property in today's digital and online world.

But such a move is exactly what the file-sharing firms and their supporters
hope to avoid.

"A rule like this will make it almost impossible for anyone to innovate or
create new products unless they have the blessing of the copyright
holders," said Grokster attorney Michael Page during a conference call with
reporters Tuesday. "And when the copyright holders also control the
distribution systems, that blessing will not be forthcoming."

A group of 17 computer science and engineering professors at nine
universities, including Harold Abelson of the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, Edward W. Felten of Princeton and David J. Farber of Carnegie
Mellon, stressed in their brief that they feared if the court sided with
the entertainment companies it could chill technological progress in
computers and the Internet.

"If this court should announce a more restrictive rule, those who create
the latest advances in technology will halt or significantly scale back
their work, for fear of massive copyright infringement damages," the
professors' brief asserts.

Four consumer and public-interest groups also weighed in, arguing that any
steps to change the Betamax doctrine would give Hollywood and other
copyright owners the power to censor information technology that ultimately
could benefit consumers.

Entertainment companies "would turn this into a surveillance society in
which every file is fingerprinted, every user is tagged, every transaction
is monitored," said Mark Cooper, a spokesman for the Consumer Federation of

Others who filed briefs in support of Grokster and StreamCast included a
group of law professors, the National Association of Shareholder and
Consumer Attorneys, the National Venture Capital Association, Creative
Commons and trade groups representing technology companies such as Intel
Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and Apple Computer Inc.

A brief by several telecom firms argues "only Congress has the
constitutional mandate and institutional capacity to address peer-to-peer
technology in a way that promotes the good and punishes the bad."

Intel also submitted a separate brief, where it argues that any changes to
the Sony Betamax decision would put the onus on it and other companies to
"anticipate the potential uses of their innovations ..." and then redesign
their technology to make sure it doesn't violate copyright laws.

That "would stifle innovation and dramatically increase the cost of such
technologies and of the consumer and enterprise products based on those
technologies," the company argued.

Several recording artists, conservative family groups, professional sports
leagues, state attorneys general from 39 states, the U.S. government,
university professors and online services that legally sell music or movies
have filed briefs in support of the entertainment industry.

The justices are scheduled to hear arguments in the case March 29.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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