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Constitution Day: Who is Responsible for Illegal Downloads of Music Files?
September 14, 2005
By Chuck Malone, University Libraries
MGM Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd
According to Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution "the Congress shall have power . . . to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." As a result, composers, performers, and recording companies have had their music protected under copyright laws. Online music sharing has tested this Constitutional protection.
On June 27, 2005, in a unanimous 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit and ruled that defendants Grokster and StreamCast could be liable for inducing copyright infringement because of the peer to peer music file sharing software they offer.
Twenty-six years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that Sony Corporation could not be sued if owners of their Betamax VCRs recorded television programs and used the recordings illegally. Rather than revisiting Sony, the Court distinguished Sony from Grokster by explaining that there was no evidence that Sony had not encouraged the taping of programs in violation of copyright or had taken active steps to increase its profits from unlawful taping. On the other hand, this Supreme Court ruling did find that the intended purpose of software Grokster and others offer, is to illegally exchange files, and thus these companies can be held liable.
In 2001, the 9th Circuit federal court ruled that Napster, a centralized file sharing database, did violate copyright protection. As a result, companies, like Grokster and StreamCast, worked around the centralized file sharing concept of Napster, and began offering software that allowed users to load music files from other peoples individual personal computers. Grokster and these other peer to peer software companies sought protection from the earlier Sony ruling when music companies began suing them. Earlier federal courts granted Grokster and others that protection. However, this June 27th Supreme Court decision vacated and remanded the case back to the lower courts. Lawsuits against Grokster and others will be reconsidered in light of the Supreme Courts actions.
Also, during the last several years, Napster and others have developed legal products for selling music online. These companies offer thousands of songs for sale, and typically charge around a dollar per song to download the music they carry.
MGM Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd, 162 L.Ed 2d 781 (2005)
A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc . 239 F.3d 1004 (2002)
Sony Corp. of American v. Universal City Studies, Inc. 464 U.S. 417 (1984)
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