28 June 2005

Grokster, Not a Big Deal

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. vs. Grokster, Ltd.
US Supreme Court Docket: 04-480

Yesterday, on June 27th, the US Supreme Court (PDF: decision) reversed several lower court decisions, by holding StreamCast, the owner of the Grokster File Sharing Network, liable for the copyright infringement of Grokster users. 

The news coverage on this (like, from the BBC) sounds bad.  The response (like, from Gnutella) sounds worse. 

However, when you get down to it, the decision represents a tiny crack in the wall, and contains more than enough detail to make it clear to both copyright holders and file sharing network providers alike what is and is not legal. 

Why Grokster is Guilty

The unanimous decision (linked above) clearly states that Grokster's liability is due to promoting infringement.  By actively marketing the product as a Napster alternative and as a means to obtain copyright materials for no cost.  The decision doesn't get much more complex than that. 

It's pretty clear in the text of the decision.  If you don't want to get sued, don't promote illegal activities. 

One Possible Tragedy

If big MPAA, and RIAA member companies abuse this decision, there could be some collateral damage.  There are countless peer-to-peer technologies that can be used to share copyright files, but are not promoted for that purpose.  These technologies could include Instant Messaging (like jabber and AOL IM), tracked distribution (like BitTorrent) as well as the more traditional share-search clients (like Gnucleus and LimeWire). Without needing to win a case, the cost of defence alone could send these low-fund projects spiraling out of existence. 

Even if this happens, the technology itself will not go away.  Other implementations will appear to take each lost projects place.  Strangely, if they squeeze too hard, there will be a backlash, only it won't be 'just the geeks and kids'.
Well, it won't be just the kids.

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