Grokster Gets a Date With Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has set March 29 as the date for oral arguments on whether companies providing peer-to-peer file-trading software should be held responsible for copyright infringement committed by users of their products.

Ongoing Fight

The arguments are part of a long-playing case pitting a cadre of entertainment industry players against distributors of the Grokster and Morpheus file trading software.

The P-to-P companies have already won in district court, and declared victory again last August when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Grokster, Morpheus distributor StreamCast Networks, and a site operated by StreamCast called Musiccity.com were not liable for copyright violations by their users.

The entertainment companies, led by the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, decided to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying there are seminal issues at stake.

History Plays Out

The lower court rulings were largely based on the landmark 1984 "Sony Betamax" case between Sony and Universal City Studios. In that case the Supreme Court decided that Sony was not responsible for copyright violations committed by users of its Betamax video recorders, noting that the technology had significant noninfringing uses.

Now the Supreme Court looks set to revisit many of the arguments discussed in the Sony Betamax case. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is helping defend StreamCast, said this week that it looks forward to the Supreme Court reaffirming the Betamax ruling. It added that like Betamax, Morpheus has substantial noninfringing users.

Grokster is also standing by the Betamax defense. In a statement posted on its Web site the company said that any change to the Betamax ruling would serve to kill a revolutionary technology in its cradle.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion on the case by the end of July, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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