File swapping vs. Hollywood

Movie studios and record labels find unlikely bedfellows in Supreme Court fight against file swapping.

Firing the first shots in a legal battle likely to be felt across the technology industry, Hollywood studios and record labels asked the Supreme Court to give them new ammunition in their fight against file swapping.

Backed by a diverse coalition of influential groups, including the Bush administration's top lawyer and the Christian Coalition, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America on Monday asked the court to overturn previous rulings that have let file-swapping software companies such as Grokster operate with only minimal legal restrictions.

In their briefs, the groups called for a new legal test that could hold companies responsible for their customers' copyright infringement, even if they have no direct control over that activity. Allowing businesses "predominately" devoted to copyright infringement to operate has disrupted a traditional legal balance between technological advance and copyrights, they said.

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What's new:
Hollywood studios and record labels are asking the Supreme Court to overturn previous rulings that let P2P companies operate with minimal restrictions.

Bottom line:
The Supreme Court case is widely viewed as one of the most important legal battles of the year across the tech industry and could affect virtually every consumer electronics and computer manufacturer, as well as software and entertainment companies.

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"The Sgt. Schultz defense for Grokster doesn't work," RIAA Chief Executive Mitch Bainwol said at a press conference Tuesday, alluding to the bumbling camp guard from the "Hogan's Heroes" sitcom. "'See nothing, hear nothing,' doesn't apply."

Although focused on the issue of file swapping, the Supreme Court case is viewed across the technology industry as one of the most important legal battles of the year. Legal observers say the outcome of the case could affect virtually every consumer electronics and computer manufacturer, as well as software and entertainment companies.

At the case's heart is the 20-year-old Supreme Court ruling that made Sony Betamax videocassette recorders legal to sell. That ruling said technology that could be used for illegal purposes could still be legal to sell without liability, as long as it had substantial commercial noninfringing uses.

"That protection can't be eroded. If it is, it will affect the future of technology."
--Gary Shapiro, CEO, Consumer Electronics Association

Consumer electronics and computer makers see that ruling as having protected the development and sale of everything from Apple Computer's iPod to an ordinary PC.

"I can't overstate how important this case is," said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which is expected to give substantial support to the peer-to-peer software companies when they file their responses to the entertainment companies' arguments in late February. "That protection can't be eroded. If it is, it will affect the future of technology."

The RIAA and MPAA say they're not trying to overturn that doctrine. But their attorneys have argued that because Grokster and Morpheus parent StreamCast Networks are aware of widespread copyright

 

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