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States, artists urge top court to hear P2P case

Software companies say Supreme Court shouldn't hear record, movie industries' appeal on legality of file-swapping software.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
2 min read
A broad list of copyright owners, artists, law professors and state attorneys general on Monday asked the Supreme Court to hear a controversial case on the legality of file-swapping software.

A federal appeals court ruled last August that peer-to-peer software developers, including Morpheus parent StreamCast Networks and rival Grokster, were not liable for the actions of people who used their products to thwart copyright laws. Record labels and Hollywood studios want the nation's top court to overturn this ruling.

More than 30 copyright and professional associations, about 20 artists, several music and movie subscription and download services, and 40 state attorney generals offices all submitted "friend of the court" briefs Monday asking the Supreme Court to hear the appeal of the file-swapping case.

StreamCast, which is being supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, filed its own brief, arguing that the high court should not hear the case, because Congress is already wrestling with the issue.

"Congress...is at this moment considering the very question (of) whether and how copyright law should be altered to address the challenges and opportunities created by new Internet technologies, including peer-to-peer file sharing," StreamCast's attorneys wrote in their brief. The studios and record labels "ask this Court to pre-empt the legislative process and substitute judicial policy-making."

The attempt to shut down peer-to-peer networks has been one of the centerpieces of record industry and movie studio efforts to cut down on the rampant file-swapping they say is cutting into their revenues. But after victories against Napster, Aimster and others, the copyright companies have run into a hurdle.

A federal court judge ruled in April that peer-to-peer software was legal to distribute without copyright liability, as long as the company making the software didn't have direct control over what was happening on the network.

"Grokster and StreamCast are not significantly different from companies that sell home video recorders or copy machines, both of which can be and are used to infringe copyrights," federal Judge Stephen Wilson wrote in that ruling.

A federal appeals court upheld Wilson's ruling in August.

In the meantime, record labels and movie studios have moved to sue individuals who are trading copyrighted works. The Recording Industry Association of America has filed more than 6,000 suits, while the Motion Picture Association of America said last week that it would launch its own cases later this month.

Monday was the deadline for "friend of the court" briefs on the case. The Supreme Court is not expected to decide whether to hear the case for several months.