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Supreme Court Rules Against File Swapping

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that peer-to-peer companies such as Grokster could be held responsible for the copyright piracy on their networks. This is a big win for the record and movie companies. The ruling essentially states that the distributors of a tool that allows copyright infringement may be held liabale for such infringement.

Thoughts anyone?

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

11 Comments on Supreme Court Rules Against File Swapping

  1. The point of the ruling is that tools such as what Grokster were making available are illegal, but Bittorrent and tools of this nature are not promoted as mechanisms to obtain copyrighted materials. They are used for that purpose, but not distributed under that premise. Therefore, had Grokster created an application for sharing large open source files, patches, and demos they would not have been found guilty. The key term in thier advertising was the “find any file now”, and I think thats where its flawed.

    My feeling on it is that this is just another attempt to extend a broken system without really investigating why its broken. Do I recommend piracy? No, but I also have a problem with a record and movie industry that is unable to keep up with technology. They expend such huge amounts of money on trying to stop piracy via lawsuits and threats and never consider that making changes in how this stuff is distributed.

  2. well, this ruling is pretty broad — it can be construed that your ipod is a device that promotes illegal file sharing so apple can be liable too… usually common sense prevails in the supreme court , i don’t grok what happened this time…

  3. I fear decisions like this will act to dissuade people from taking risks. If you’re cool new software could be used to trade illegal software/music/video/whatever then you’re less likely to release it or improve it in new ways.

  4. I agree Scott, but lets hope that folks will see the light beyond this. Law is a tricky thing in that even the language that it is written with is often subject of debate. Personally, if they would make the stuff easier to obtain and use – there would be less piracy. I will also point out that if the studios would realize that releasing movies on DVD near the same time as the theatrical release would garner them more cash then perhaps that would help dissaude piracy. The funny thing is that there was piracy prior to Grokster and Napster, and I am sure if Bittorrent goes away – there will still be avenues to obtain this material. Again only those who use it legally get punished much like copy protection only punishes those who legally purchase the item.

  5. Are you saying that it’s morally justifiable to download copyrighted material (whether it’s strictly legal or not) because the record/movie industry selectively makes stuff available for legal download? In other words, since I can’t download Dave Matthews Band legally it’s okay for me to dowload it illegally, rather than buy the CD?

    I’ve also heard the argument that the music/movie industries are money-grubbing rich bastards with more money than God so it’s okay for me to steal from them. I think that’s their right to be money-grubbing rich bastards with more money than God. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to support them by buying their movies and music. But neither should I take it from them freely.

    Granted, I’ve watched/listened to illegally-obtained copyrighted materials that others have given me, so I’m not climbing on my high horse here. I’m just saying that I can’t justify this as being a perfectly okay thing to do.

    Also, perhaps I’m naive, but my thought is that development of pirate-enabling software would continue unabated, but that developers would release software in ways that would make it impossible to track them down. I think there’s really no way to stop the illegal download of copyrighted material.

  6. I find it interesting that you use the words “morally justifiable” in this particular case, but regardless I don’t believe I have stated anywhere in my posts above that you should go out and download something illegally versus buy it. I believe my point was that this content in this day and age should be easier to obtain and use. I also believe that if you make something easier to obtain the need for piracy will diminish. Lets look at a latest example of this regarding movies and China (who apparently has a severe piracy issue.) Warner Brothers is testing a launch of a DVD on the same date as the release of a movie in the hopes of diminishing piracy. Its a great experiment and I hope that it works. I also hope that they will bring that mentality to the US.

    I also want to comment about somethings about DRM and copy protection. I still think they do nothing but prevent folks who have legally obtained the material from using it the way it was intended. Piracy can never be fully eliminated, and folks should realize that. I believe John Scalzi has a great post on his blog about that, and I won’t repeat it here. But to diminish it, the producers of content have to come to the realization that 15 bucks versus free is a big difference. So then we get into the discussion about where that money goes, and it gets into a viscious cycle about cost of living versus what the market will pay. I work on the concept of quality and ease of access, and thats how I decide where to get my music. I tend to frequent used stores and use iTunes.

    Furthermore, the main point here was that the ruling really can put a crimp in how content is distributed. Folks look at things like Bittorrent and assume that the software was intended to support piracy, but that was not its original intention. Blizzard uses Bittorent technology to patch thier client and that is just one of the potential applications for this technology. The Grokster/Morpheus guys got nailed for making the statement that thier software/technology can get you any file (copyrighted or not) at any time.

    Elimination of piracy will never happen, but we should realize that it will always be around. The goal should not to stifle innovation nor overload the consumer with so much “protection” that they cannot use thier purchase. The goal should find a medium ground on which to work, and then both sides will be happy.

    Finally, I pose a question to you. If I buy a CD and let you rip it for use on your MP3 player – is that legal? I mean I might have the entire Dave Mathews Band collection and you just want a few songs… It’s an interesting concept really and one I believe Cory Doctorow discussed at one point.

  7. You’re right – piracy is here to stay, and I don’t think that making laws prohibiting it will change anyone’s mind about whether it’s right or wrong.

    By “morally justifiable” I mean saying at one point or another that it’s okay to download copyrighted material because We’re talking about doing it – are we saying that it’s okay or are we acknowledging that it’s not okay but we do it anyway? I would like to hear peoples’ stories/opinions. One story I have was that at one point I had a Sims 2 disc go bad. Before that disc went bad I tried unsuccessfully to make a backup copy of it. I would consider it morally justifiable to download a copy of the disc in that case (although the problem turned out to actually be bad memory and not a bad disc after all.)

    I used the Dave Matthews example because not much of it has come out electronically, and I won’t buy a whole CD, therefore my collection is lacking that band, even though I like them (I like a lot of other stuff, too that IS available electronically, so THEY get my money.) So you’re right that the companies/bands are hurting themselves not making content more available. But it is their right to not make it available and it’s my option to not support them by buying their CD.

    Interestingly, John showed me that Green Day is selling blank CD’s with the American Idiot silk screening on it. They’re not saying it’s okay to pirate their music, but acknowledge that people will do it and are trying to at least make a little money on the deal.

  8. There’s a nice writeup of the issue over at tech columnist Dwight Silverman’s blog.

  9. As a positive aside, I downloaded an album from iTunes yesterday and noticed that they’re now including the booklet from the cd in PDF format along with the music.

    And to summarize my blow-hard comments, I don’t have a problem with people downloading copyrighted materials (like one of the articles mentioned – it’s made the record industry react with making music possible with services like iTunes), I just don’t understand people thinking it’s their right to do so.

  10. I agree nobody has the right to the copyrighted materials save the original creator, and does that mean we can hug now?


  11. You bet! I was not getting personal; I’ve heard a lot of people around angered by the record/movie companies and artists attempting to keep control of their material and wanted to hear that rationale.

    Let’s talk about nice things, like did you hear Firefly is coming to SciFi Channel (or has that already been posted and I should RTFB?)

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