Representatives for the music and movie industries have filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision in which companies that enable peer-to-peer file trading networks were absolved of liability for copyright violations by users of those networks.
A spokesperson for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) confirms Friday that the MPAA, along with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), plans to escalate the dispute to the highest court in the U.S.
"We believe that the liability, the secondary liability that these companies have avoided by building their companies in such a way to get around the law, is something that needs to be thought about and revised," the spokesperson says.
In August, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously to uphold a lower court ruling that P-to-P companies Grokster, Streamcast Networks, and Musiccity.com were not liable for the copyright violations committed by users of those services. P-to-P technology has many uses beyond the sharing of copyright files, and because of the decentralized nature of the P-to-P services in question, the companies that operate those services can't know exactly what all their users are doing at a given moment, the appeals court said.
The centralized network operated by P-to-P pioneer Napster led to its shutdown by the courts. Those servers held music and video files that users shared between their PCs, whereas Grokster and Morpheus, the service operated by Streamcast, do not have a central network of servers that temporarily store files.
"There are technologies and Web sites that we all know are built to share copyright-protected work and other works but that they are not liable because they have designed themselves in a way to get around the law," the MPAA spokesperson says.
Public Knowledge, a group that lobbies on behalf of P-to-P advocates, says the MPAA has no standing to pursue the case further.
"[The Grokster] case was based on the principles established in the 1984 Betamax case, which has lead to the largest and most profitable period of technological innovation in this countrya??s history. Consumers, industry, and our country have all benefited as a result," the group says in a statement.
Betamax was a video cassette recorder format developed by Sony that drew the ire of television and movie studios, which thought its use would lead to widespread copyright violations.
The MPAA expects to hear by November whether the Supreme Court will hear the case, unless the P-to-P legal team files for an extension, the spokesperson says. In that case, the decision could stretch into January.
Joris Evers of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.