Supreme Court Rules against Grokster

Images-80 Today the Supreme Court ruled against Grokster. “One who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright … is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties using the device, regardless of the device’s lawful uses.” I’ll update this post as more information comes in, it was an unanimous ruling too. [via] Link.

0 thoughts on “Supreme Court Rules against Grokster

  1. I wonder what the fall out will be for the developers of software compression algorithms/programs. It would stand to reason, if the file swapping software companies are allowed to be sued, that the compression software manufacture would be named as defendants as well.

  2. Is this that big a deal? I’m sure you will always be able to download the software from China or India or something? Good luck to the MIAA trying to sue some shareware coder in Bolivia!

  3. Solet me get this right…

    Apple who distributes the iPod is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties using the device, regardless of the device’s lawful uses.

    But only if the distriution is done with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright? How close is Apple to that line?

    /me wonders off to make a copy of Make Magazine with a Xerox Photocopier

  4. It’s really not as bad as all that.

    Important note: It was a 9-0 decision. This is (probably) a good thing — it means that the overall decision was WAY toned down. When the decisions are 5-4, that means that the extremists of one side or the other won out through strength of numbers. When it’s 9-0, it means the folks on both sides came to some kind of consensus.

    From the decision: “One who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, going beyond mere distribution with knowledge of third-party action, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties using the device, regardless of the deviceÂ’s lawful uses.”

    Anyway, the decision more or less only strikes against programs that are designed with violation of copyright laws as their primary purpose: case in point, Aimster, who implemented an encryption algorithm in their service solely for deniability reasons, and then got sued for it.

    So how on earth do you prove that a device was distributed with the intention to infringe copyright? iPods, for example, come with a little sticker that says “please don’t use me to steal music.” In fact, because of the success of iTunes Music Store, it seems plausible that Apple, iPods, and other digital music players are almost definitely safe. Do people infringe with iPods? Of course. Does Apple know about it? Of course. But did they create the iPod to help people infringe? Nope, they created it to work with legal music.

    BitTorrent, too, is safe. It was marketed primarily as a system for shuffling around large files in a more efficient manner. Even NASA uses BitTorrent to distribute their World Wind program. So, with BitTorrent, does infringement happen? Yes. Does Bram Cohen know about it? Of course. But did he write BitTorrent specifically for piracy? Nope, or at least, unprovable. So BT is safe too.

  5. “The one person who hasn’t joined the plundering is Cohen himself. He says he has never downloaded a single pirated file using BitTorrent. Why? He suspects the MPAA would love to make a legal example of him, and he doesn’t want to give them an opening. He’s the perfect candidate for downloading, though, since he doesn’t care if he sees TV live, doesn’t subscribe to basic cable, and already sits at a computer all day long. The only shows he watches are those he buys on DVD.”

    from: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.01/bittorrent.html

  6. The ruling is clear. It’s NOT the nature of the software or the network per se that makes it illegal (the Betamax case sees to that) but the way in which Grokster and similar companies market their product (which comes down to inciting illegal activities from their users).
    If you sell (or otherwise distribute) a piece of software and state in your marketing “download unreleased movies for free” or “gives free access to music from all the major charts” you’d better have distribution licenses for those movies and music or you’re liable to be held responsible if your users indulge in doing what you told them they could do.
    Good decision IMO, leaves the products alone but targets the ways in which they are marketed.

    And before you say that doesn’t happen, such marketing is exactly what’s going on all over the place.
    Even ISPs now advertise their services as “ideal for highspeed downloading” while playing samples of music from the charts (which for the commercial were of course licensed but they don’t make that distinction).

    Developers of compression software don’t advertise their software as allowing the easier distribution of pirated material so they’re not liable.

  7. First effects of Grokster

    http://www.cs.princeton.edu/courses/archive/spring05/cos491/writing/ says:

    ‘Heres the first change that Ive seen due to the Grokster decision.
    Bonpoo is a service that lets you send large files to other people.
    It used to be general-purpose; you could send anything to your friends.
    Now, post-Grokster, they only let you send photos:

    IMPORTANT NOTICE:
    At bonpoo we are constantly testing file transfers services that help people send legal
    files across the Internet. Given the recent Supreme Court decision we have suspended our
    free file transfer services except for photos. We apologize for any incovience.
    Please check out our professional product HeavyMail for an alternative to our prior service.’

    By the way, Bonpoo’s website is http://www.bonpoo.com and HeavyMail’s website is http://www.heavymail.com

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