Congress applauds file-sharing ruling

There's no sign of a desire in Congress to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in key file-swapping case.

The U.S. Congress appears reluctant to step into the long-simmering debate over file swapping that received new fuel from a landmark court ruling on Monday.

Key politicians from both major political parties said they were inclined to let the lawsuit, MGM v. Grokster, proceed through the court system before deciding whether to alter copyright law. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed the case back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for a full trial.

Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said through a spokeswoman that he "is going to let the courts continue their role in reviewing the next phase of this case." Poll

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who heads an intellectual property subcommittee, said: "Prudence and respect for the role of the courts suggest Congress wait until it becomes clear how today's decision will play out in the lower courts before there is a rush to legislate."

It's common for Congress to respond to court rulings with legislative tinkering, and many observers were predicting that the loser in this case would ask politicians for help. In a concurring opinion on Monday, Justice Stephen Breyer practically invited action from Congress, noting that "the legislative option remains available."

But Monday's unanimous opinion--which largely sided with record labels and movie studios but did not go as far as they had hoped--seemed to quell any thoughts of an immediate legislative response.

The Bush administration, in a statement from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, applauded the ruling. So did Rep. John Conyers, the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, who called it a "victory" for consumers and content creators.

Rep. Mary Bono, a California Republican who is the co-chair of the Recording Arts and Sciences Caucus, said through a spokeswoman that she "is extremely pleased with the outcome of the Supreme Court decision and will look to ensure that no legislation threatens their ruling."

Supporters of Grokster's bid before the high court were left facing the twin setbacks of the Supreme Court's ruling and little relief in sight from Congress.

"I think that Congress in the short run is likely to keep its powder dry and to let this matter go at least part of the way through the courts again," acknowledged Adam Eisgrau, lobbyist for the P2P United trade association. Eisgrau said he hoped that politicians would use the time to learn more about peer-to-peer systems and gather "empirical information about the way this technology has been used."

The high court's move effectively exterminates a proposal called the Induce Act that surfaced last year and drew stiff opposition from technology companies. Drafted in response to the 9th Circuit's decision in favor of Grokster and StreamCast Networks, the Induce Act would have punished companies that induced customers to violate copyright law.

Leahy spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in e-mail to CNET that "Senator Leahy was a co-sponsor of the Induce bill with Senator Hatch last Congress, which treated inducement as an appropriate approach to secondary liability in this context, and the fact that the Supreme Court agrees with that is heartening."

Sen. Hatch, a prominent copyright hawk, went further. "Obviously, if it appears that U.S. industries, technological innovation or consumers are ultimately harmed by (Monday's) decision, Congress should consider a legislative solution that appropriately balances consumer interests, innovation and intellectual property rights," the Utah senator said.

CNET's Anne Broache contributed to this report.

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