The Grokster Decision Explained: P2P File Sharing is Not Illegal!

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The Internet world is abuzz with talk about today’s Supreme Court decision in the Grokster case, as it was with the Napster case before it. “Studios Win Big in Grokster Case,” reads one headline; “Hollywood Wins Internet Piracy Battle,” says another. “Court Sides with Entertainment Biz in Grokster Case,” reads yet a third.

And in a rather disgusting display of self-congratulatory puffery, the RIAA has issued a statement saying that “With this unanimous decision, the Supreme Court has addressed a significant threat to the U.S. economy and moved to protect the livelihoods of the more than 11 million Americans employed by the copyright industries.”

Of course, probably half of those “11 million Americans employed by the copyright industries” are employed by the RIAA themselves, working to track down those hardened music pirates – the scourge of the Internet – you know, the twelve-year-olds. And what a surprise to learn that the significant threat to our U.S. economy is not events in the Middle East, the entry of cheap and efficient Asian high tech components to the world market, or even the U.S.’ own global financial entanglements, but file sharing!


Showing only slightly more restraint and tact, Dan Glickman of the MPAA said “Protecting intellectual property rights and aggressively combating copyright theft will keep an engine of economic growth and job creation thriving; promote innovation; strengthen legitimate businesses that unite technology and content in innovative and legal ways; and ensure a future of quality and choice for consumers in the United States and around the world.â€?

Gag Aunty with an MP3. Well, at least Glickman admits that combating copyright theft will keep job creation thriving.

But at the end of the day, what is the new Grokster ruling really about? Does it really herald the end of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing? Is it really illegal to share files? Are companies like Grokster, Streamcast, and Napster now outlawed?

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No, of course not, although you would think so from all the headlines, wouldn’t you?

So let Aunty deconstruct this for you. And you can take this to the bank; Aunty does, after all, have credentials in legal deconstruction.

His Honour Justice Souter, writing the opinion, summed it up when when he wrote in today’s ruling: “There is no evidence that either company (Grokster or StreamCast) made an effort to filter copyrighted material from users’ downloads or otherwise impede the sharing of copyrighted files. Each company showed itself to be aiming to satisfy a known source of demand for copyright infringement, the market comprising former Napster users.”

 

Ok, got that? Here is the critical portion of today’s decision: “Each company showed itself to be aiming to satisfy a known source of demand for copyright infringement…”.

Here’s what today’s ruling really says:

It’s not good enough for your peer-to-peer or other filesharing network to have some other legal, legitimate use. That was the basis for the much bally-hooed Sony Betamax decision. In the Sony Betamax decision, years ago, when the entertainment industry tried to argue that VCRs could infringe on copyrights by recording copyrighted movies and such, the Court said “no, they have other legitimate uses” (such as recording home movies).

But that’s not enough. It’s necessary that your system have some other legal, legitimate use, as in the Sony Betamax case, but it’s not sufficient.

It’s also necessary that the primary reason for your existence, your raison d’etre – you know, you’re primary business model – not be to help people download infringing, illegal, copyrighted material.

You see, the court did not hold today that peer-to-peer file sharing is illegal. They held that going out of your way to facilitate an illegal activity – the sharing of illegal files (copyright infringing files) – is illegal.

It’s still legal to download legal files, and it’s still legal to share them. And it’s even still legal to help people do that.

The secret is to make sure that you can honestly say “we facilitate the sharing of legitimate, non-copyright-protected files, and do not facilitate the illegal downloading of copyrighted material.” And that you can pass the “straight face test” when you say it.

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10 thoughts on “The Grokster Decision Explained: P2P File Sharing is Not Illegal!

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with Lee. The music industry changed formats three times in my lifetime. I have U2’s ‘Under a Blood Red Sky’ album in three different formats. Now, I could burn my own copy of the CD to MP3 or I could download it from a file-sharing network. Who cares which I do? I bought the music. It’s mine. I don’t own the copyright to perform it, but I do own the music to listen to. If anyone buys the music to listen to, they aren’t prohibited from letting someone else listen to it in a private setting. That’s all file-sharing is. I could also let someone borrow an album and they could tape it on a cassette tape. That’s been going on for years. I don’t hear the RIAA complaining about that.

  2. In my time, I’ve bought roughly 1000 albums,which have all fallen by the wayside due to warping and wearing out. For example, i have PAID for 3 copies of Meatloafs Bat out of Hell album,plus 1 tape of same. Somehow, I just dont feel bad about downloading mp3s of songs from that album,or any of the other albums I used to have, because THEY MADE THEIR MONEY OFF OF ME ALREADY, 4 times over! Having been a hardcore audiophile,the industry has already made alot off of me, and I realy don’t feel I’m stealing anything when I’m attempting to recover copies of the music that I have already paid for.

  3. There are tons of music stores why can’t you buy music there than than risking a fine and/or a jail sentence. Eveyone is able to afford to buy music! If you don’t like the DRM restrictons from the music store you can buy a CD for crying out loud! The moral of this entire story is: DONT STEAL MUSIC!!!!!!!

  4. That still won’t stop Hollywood from suing the pants off of them, because the court ruled that they could be sued for allowing the illegal downloading of copyrighted material.

  5. If you think that the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t declare open season on open file-sharing networks, it somply proves that you’re not a lawyer.
    “It’s not good enough for your peer-to-peer or other filesharing network to have some other legal, legitimate use.”

    You see? A file-sharing network doesn’t even get to hide behind ‘other legitimate usage’ in order to avoid being sued. It’s mearly necessary for the network to be proved to be ABLE to be used by an infringing source and customer.

    But this doesn’t mean that file-sharing networks will face the fire?

  6. Let’s keep this as simple as possible. If you sell or otherwise provide something that you do not own, have title to, or otherwise is not YOURS to provide, by any other name it’s illegal. Thus, to provide a copy of copyrighted material of ANY kind that you do not own or have express written permission to distribute is illegal. Now, Aunty will state that that’s not what Grokster is doing. They are providing a method of people sharing their “possessions”. Well, have you ever heard of aiding or abetting a crime? So, Grokster isn’t doing anything wrong here. WRONG Grokster is aiding and abetting a crime, and knows damn well that a crime is being committed, and should be preventing it instead of aiding in the commission of the crime!

  7. straight face? How can one keep a straight face when they deal with the goblygook lawyers use to confuse us. One day someone will say what they mean and give consumers what they want at an affordable price. Dove product ads are a good representation of this. Entertainment industry might take a lesson from them and get real.

  8. you might want to read janice ian’s comments on this issue, “the internet debacle” and “fallout” at her website. particularly where she says she has never made a nickel in raii “royalties”, but makes her money from tours and concerts. here’s the url.

  9. So what’s your point? Are you bugged that you must pay for the fruits of other peoples labor or are you reassured that non-copywrited files can be shared by everyone? Duh, the fact that this case went to the Supreme Court only proves that there are too many shysters around with nothing better to do.

  10. Who cares? Just how many of you people are allowed to present your side of this issue to the Supreme Court? I for one am not and therefore am not obliged to obey any decisions made there.

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