The US Supreme Court Sides with Big Business Against Illegal File-Sharing

That settles it.

The US Supreme Court has spoken, and predictably, landed on the side of big business. We probably should have seen it coming, granted, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right.

MGM vs. Grokster is in the books now, and Grokster is liable for all copyright infringement that occurs through the use of its software, according to the June 27 decision. On the face, the idea does seem to be a good one-it’s fair that musicians should be paid for the distribution of their music. It’s fair that movies shouldn’t be secretly released on the internet before they are officially released in the theaters. It’s fair that software companies should be able to sell their wares in a balanced marketplace, rather than have them stolen with breakneck pace all over the world.

But there are some fundamental issues with this decision.

First is the basis on which US Justice Souter explained the court reached its decision. The discussion was to quantify the amount of good file sharing done versus bad file sharing done, and since the pendulum swung toward the bad side, eliminate file sharing altogether.

Folks old enough to remember may recall Sonycorp vs. Universal City Studios (1984). The case centered around Sony’s new video tape recorder and its possible use as a movie piracy tool. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Sony’s favor, contending that the legitimate uses for the technology outweighed the illegitimate uses.

In both cases, the basis on which the decision was reached is irksome-mostly because it smacks of prior restraint.
What the Court is saying is that because the technology could be used for illegal purposes, and that the likelihood is that it will be used for illegal purposes, then it must be censured.

The truth is, it was simply getting too expensive for the Recording Industry Association of America to go around and sue individuals in district courts around the country for illegal file sharing. So, the Court, in all its wisdom, essentially made it easier on the RIAA by eliminating due process on their behalf.

Thanks, team.

My second concern is the far-reaching nature of this decision. It’s not a huge leap to then suggest that Broadband companies are liable for allowing the transmission of this material over their networks as well. Or computer companies for providing access to it on their machinesâÂ?¦

This is a perfect example of the Supreme Court “legislating from the bench.” (As the search goes on for Sandra Day O’Connor’s replacement, you’re going to hear that term a lot. President Bush has gone on record saying he doesn’t want a justice who will “legislate from the bench.”) This is, in effect, writing new law governing a new technology-something best left up to CongressâÂ?¦ granted, considering the lobbying over the last five years regarding this topic, Congress would have gone the same direction. But at least it’s their mission to.
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And on top of it all, the victim is pretty unlikable. It’s kind of like rooting for the fat guy who sues McDonald’s for making him that way. The RIAA is complaining about a 25 percent decline in CD sales over the last few years. Profits are in the basement. But is that really just because of pirated music? Or is it because consumers are tired of paying $15 for a CD knowing 12 cents is going to the artist and the rest to the label? It’s time the government stops coddling big industry-let them learn to fight for themselves, get lean and competitive and start reinventing the way they do business.

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