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Supreme Court Debates File Sharing

March 29, 2005
What a busy Supreme Court we have today! Cable broadband access in the morning, file sharing in the afternoon. The issue on the table this p.m. is regarding the long-standing lawsuits entertainment companies have been trying to bring up against file-sharing networks such as Grokster. The entertainment companies argue that the file sharing companies should be held liable for any illegal file swapping that takes place using their technologies and networks.
Without predicting which way this case is going to swing, it's interesting to note that according to CNN, "Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out Xerox copiers, videocassette recorders, iPod music players, and even the Gutenberg press had the potential of abuse by consumers: 'In each case there could be vast numbers of infringement illegal uses,' he said, but he added that the benefits to society from those inventions were incalculable."
Way to go, Justice Breyer. It seems that the entertainment industry thinks there should be debate as to how much of the file-sharing networks' business is legitimate, and how much is illegal, which will then allow us to come up with some mathematical formula of legitimacy or lack thereof.
I hate to tell MGM about it, but there's a shop about a half a block from the TMC office that sells all manner of water pipes, glass pipes, smoking accessories and accoutrements. Let's try applying the "legitimacy formula" to THEIR business. If it could be done, don't you think the states would have found a way to shut down businesses like this long ago?
Court Mulls Impact Of File Sharing Lawsuits
New inventors could "get sued right away," Scalia says.

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court expressed concerns Tuesday over allowing entertainment companies to sue makers of software that allows Internet users to illegally download music and movies, questioning whether the threat of such legal action might stifle Web innovation.

During a lively argument, justices wondered aloud whether such lawsuits might have discouraged past inventions like copy machines, videocassette recorders and iPod portable music players — all of which can be used to make illegal duplications of copyrighted documents, movies and songs.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the same software that can be used to steal copyrighted materials offered at least conceptually “some really excellent uses” that are legal.

Justice Antonin Scalia maintained that a ruling for entertainment companies could mean that if “I’m a new inventor, I’m going to get sued right away.”

While seeming leery of allowing lawsuits, the court also appeared deeply troubled by efforts of the companies that manufacture so-called file-sharing software to encourage Internet piracy and profit from it.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy pressed a software lawyer on the question of whether profits from trafficking in stolen property can rightfully be used to help finance a young technology business. “That seems wrong to me,” he said.

Two lower courts have sided with the software makers, Grokster Inc. and StreamCast Networks. How the justices rule could redefine how consumers can watch television shows and films and listen to songs that increasingly are delivered in digital formats.

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