4.9.1 Some P2P legal developments

In April 2003 a US federal judge held that Grokster and Streamcast Networks, owners of Morpheus, could not be held liable for copyright infringement (Morpheus is based on Gnutella). The judge said that unless the P2P companies were involved actively and substantially in participation in the infringement, ‘Grokster and Streamcast are not significantly different from companies that sell home video recorders or copy machines, both of which can be and are used to infringe copyrights.’

The RIAA and MPAA appealed the ruling and the US Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in March 2005. A transcript of the oral argument before the court is available at the EFF's MGM v Grokster archive that provides up to date developments in the case. This archive includes the oral argument, linked below, heard on 3 February 2004 in the Appeal Court.

Oral argument from MGM v Grokster (69 minutes).

Download this audio clip.Audio player: t182_1_002s.mp3
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The US Copyright Office also have a page devoted to the Grokster case.

Note: The Supreme Court decided the Grokster case largely in favour of MGM on 27 June 2005, referring it back to lower district court to consider the question of damages and operating injunctions. You can read my initial analysis of the decision. In October 2007 Judge Stephen Wilson ordered the last remaining defendant in the case, Streamcast Networks, to install filters to inhibit copyright infringement. See http://b2fxxx.blogspot.com/2007/10/grokster-rides-again.html.

In June 2003, another US federal judge ruled against two other P2P companies, Madster and Aimster.

There are ongoing proposals for laws in the US which could lead to the jailing of file sharers. In June 2004 US lawmakers introduced the INDUCE (Inducement Devolves into Unlawful Child Exploitation) bill. By August 2004 the name of this proposed law was changed to the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act of 2004. Whilst the intentions behind the INDUCE act are to regulate P2P copyright infringement, critics say that it could be used to sue any computer or electronics manufacturer for selling PCs, CD burners, MP3 players or mobile phones.

The passing of the European Union intellectual property rights enforcement directive in March 2004 could lead to raids on alleged filesharers' homes.

Also in March 2004, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer (also president of the National Association of Attorneys General) circulated a letter to fellow state attorneys general calling P2P software a ‘dangerous product’ that facilitates crime and copyright infringement. The letter appears to have been drafted by a senior vice president in the MPAA, however. In August 2004 an updated version of this letter was sent to P2P United, the trade body for P2P companies, urging the companies to ‘take concrete and meaningful steps to address the serious risks posed to the consumers of our States by your company's peer-to-peer (“P2P”) file-sharing technology.’

With rapidly changing technologies and laws, all we can really say is that the impact of P2P in the copyright arena is evolving. Also that P2P is not just about file sharing but cuts across a wider spectrum of issues such as civil rights and computer crime.

4.9 Case study 2: beyond Napster – the new P2P technologies

4.10 Case Study 3: My.MP3