Five groups, representing a broad cross section of the technology industry, joined to file legal briefs Monday urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm a 21-year-old ruling protecting most technology companies from being held liable for their customers' copyright infringement.
The briefs were filed in response to a case, scheduled for oral arguments in March, in which members of the U.S. entertainment industry sued peer-to-peer software vendors for copyright infringement. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that Grokster, Morpheus distributor StreamCast Networks, and a site operated by StreamCast called Musiccity.com were not liable for copyright violations by their users.
One of the two briefs filed Monday came from the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), NetCoalition, Digital Media Association (DiMA), and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT). ITAA is a trade group representing more than 300 technology companies; NetCoalition is a trade group representing Yahoo, Google, and other Web-based businesses; DiMA represents 20 companies that create or distribute digital media; and CDT is a technology-focused civil liberties advocate.
Those four groups ask the Supreme Court to uphold its 1984 Sony Betamax ruling, in which technologies with significant noninfringing uses--in that case, a video recorder--were not liable for their users' copyright violations. "Application of this standard ... has promoted the explosion of technological innovation since the mid-1980s, involving everything from the personal computer to digital music players to the rise of the Internet itself," the four groups say in a press release.
However, the groups also asked the Supreme Court to send the case back to the lower court to decide if peer-to-peer (P-to-P) software vendors are liable for copyright infringement using other standards. The lower court should examine whether the P-to-P vendors are actively encouraging users to violate copyright law, whether the vendors profit from the infringement, and whether they have the ability to stop the infringement, the groups say.
Most current P-to-P vendors say they have no control of the files that are traded over decentralized networks.
Separately, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA (IEEE-USA) also filed a brief Monday, arguing P-to-P vendors should not be held liable for the copyright violations of users unless the vendor has actively induced the user to infringe.
"File-sharing technology serves as the basis for the Internet and should be unrestricted to produce future revolutionary digital products," Andrew Greenberg, vice chairman of IEEE-USA's Intellectual Property Committee, says in a statement. "On the other hand, copyright owners must not be left to the mercy of those who set out to knowingly and intentionally induce third parties to infringe."
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), one of the plaintiffs in the case, declines to comment on the briefs filed Monday. But in November, the RIAA noted that a number of trade groups and recording artists asked the Supreme Court to take the case. Among those groups: Entertainment Software Association, Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, Association of American Publishers, and the Screen Actors Guild.