Court rules P2P networks are like VCRs

Looks like the courts are finally realizing that copyright owners shouldn’t have control over everything. They cornerstone of today’s decision is that P2P netoworks, like VCRs, have substantial noninfringing uses.

A federal court denied a request to shut down Internet song-swapping services Grokster and Morpheus on Friday, handing a stunning setback to the record labels and movie studios that have sought to curb unauthorized downloading of their works. U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson said the two services should not be shut down because they cannot control what is traded over their systems. Like a videocassette recorder, the software in question could be used for legitimate purposes as well as illicit ones, he said. “It is undisputed that there are substantial noninfringing uses for (the) Defendants’ software,” wrote Wilson, who serves in Los Angeles. [Yahoo! News: Court Rejects Suit Against Web Song-Swappers]

Take that, RIAA! Next, we’ll repeal the DMCA!

2 thoughts on “Court rules P2P networks are like VCRs

  1. Richard Tanzer

    The issue of using photocopiers to “steal” copyrighted articles was a big deal about 30 years ago. Gradually the courts developed the fair use doctrine. I’m not particularly familiar with copyright law – but my understanding is that making a small number of copies of an article for personal use is not generally considered a copyright violation. On the other hand, copying a publication for resale certainly may be a violation.

    I wonder if a similar doctrine will evolve for music and videos, or does it already exist?

  2. Michael J. Radwin

    I think such a doctrine already exists. If you look at the CD and DVD “Copy” programs that are available for computers with CD (or DVD) burners, they all tell you that you’re only supposed to make a copy for archival, personal use.

    I think it’s also considered fair use to make music “mixes” of a variety of individual songs — either on a tape or on a CD.

    The real issue is that although P2P networks could be used to distribute royalty-free documents (like a music file that an artist explicitly granted a free license to use and copy), the vast majority of the content available right now are copies of music that do not come with a license that allows redistribution.

    Since P2P users are simply trading files without any monetary exchange, this is arguably less pernicious than what goes on in Asia where bootleg CDs are sold on the street for a profit.

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