June 2003

Record Labels, Music Publishers, Internet

In a blow to record labels, music publishers and film producers, a Federal judge in Los Angeles on Friday denied the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) motion for summary judgement in its copyright-infringement suit against peer-to-peer file-swapping services Morpheus and Grokster. The RIAA along with the National Music Publishers’ Association and the Motion Picture Association of America, filed the suit in 2001.

Judge Stephen Wilson broke with the recent series of victories for the entertainment industries’ trade association recently and ruled that the P2P service providers are not liable because they are capable of non-infringing use. He compared the case to landmark litigation brought by movie studios in 1984 against Sony Corporation over the sale of Betamax videocassette recorders which of course could be used to (legitimately) play pre-recorded copies of films but could also be used to copy programmes from the television. Judge Wilson held that “The sale of copy equipment … does not constitute contributory infringement if the product is capable of substantial non-infringing uses,” Wilson wrote. Grokster and StreamCast Networks, firms that distribute the file-sharing programs Grokster and Morpheus, were not guilty of copyright infringement just because some users swap copyrighted works using the software.

The decision immediately attracted the support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation who have long argued that providing general purpose software tools should not attract liability to the software providers when users use the software for copyright infringing purposes such as peer-2-peer file swapping.

COMMENT : The RIAA will of course appeal this decision and have long pursued the policy of pursuing internet service providers, software providers, cable companies etc as they are far easier to target than having to locate and prosecute individuals who actually infringe copyright. Judge Wilson’s reference to the ‘betamax’ case is interesting as this defence failed in the Napster case (RIAA -v- Napster). However Napster posted directories of its users’ files and was thus in a better position to know what their users were exchanging – rather than simply providing a communication service or software to facilitate possible exchanges of copyright material.
See: www.billboard.com and www.dww.com/newsletter/
The full decision can be found at (pdf file) :http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/mgm/mgmgrokster42503ord.pdf

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