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Downloading Justice

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2004; 9:36 AM

The file-sharing wars could get even hotter if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to weighs in on whether "peer-to-peer" networks should be held responsible for their users' illegal trading of copyrighted songs and movies.

On Friday, the principal industry groups representing Hollywood and the recording studios asked the high court to "overturn a lower-court ruling that lets creators of Internet file-sharing software stay in operation. The request aims to thwart a decision that threatens to make it much harder for the industry to fight illicit online trading of music and movies," the Wall Street Journal explained. Reuters said the studios asked the court "to overturn a ruling that Internet 'peer to peer' networks cannot be held liable when their users copy music and movies without permission. Dozens of entertainment-industry companies asked the court to reverse an appeals court decision that has prevented them from shutting down networks like Grokster and Morpheus that they say encourage millions of consumers to copy music and movies for free rather than buying them."
The Wall Street Journal: Music Industry Asks Supreme Court To Overturn File-Sharing Ruling (Subscription required)
Reuters: Hollywood Asks Top Court To Weigh File Trading

_____Filter Archive_____
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Campaign Ads Stay Off-Line, on Air (washingtonpost.com, Oct 5, 2004)
PeopleSoft v. Oracle: Game Over? (washingtonpost.com, Oct 4, 2004)
More Past Issues

In its coverage, CNET's News.com said the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America want the court to "overturn a controversial series of recent court decisions that have kept file-swapping software legal. The decisions have been among the biggest setbacks for the entertainment industry in the past several years, as they have tried to quell the rampant exchange of copyrighted materials over peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa and Morpheus."
CNET's News.com: Hollywood Takes P2P Case To Supreme Court

According to the Associated Press, "Lawyers for movie studios and music labels told justices in an appeal that Grokster and StreamCast enable millions of people a day to copy and share their products without permission." But in making its call for the Supreme Court to intervene, the entertainment industry also essentially admitted that its legal war against Internet piracy has been largely futile. From Friday's petition, quoted by the Hollywood Reporter: "The infringement Grokster and StreamCast foster is inflicting catastrophic, multibillion-dollar harm on petitions that cannot be redressed through lawsuits against the millions of direct infringers using those services." More from the joint filing, as cited by CNET's News.com: "This is one of the most important copyright cases ever to reach this court," the filing said. "Resolution of the question presented here will largely determine the value, indeed the very significance, of copyright in the digital era."
The Associated Press via The San Jose Mercury News: Supreme Court Asked To Intervene In File-Swapping Dispute (Registration required)
Hollywood Reporter: Studios, Labels Take File-Sharing Fight To Supreme Court

The Wall Street Journal provided a solid recap of the lower court's decision, which the MPAA and RIAA want reviewed by the high court. "The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in August said peer-to-peer services were legal because their software can be used for legal purposes. The judge found the services can't be responsible if users find illegal purposes for the software, such as illegally trading copyrighted material. Analysts say the vast majority of material traded through such services is illegal. The courts have shut down some file-sharing services, such as Napster and Aimster, because they maintained central directories of available material. ... Newer file-sharing services, such as Grokster, a defendant in the current case, allow users' computers to talk directly with one another. That means the services don't have the ability to block access to suspect files." (See the Aug. 20 Filter for more background on the ruling.)

The companies that make file-sharing software, along with a hodge-podge of technology rights groups, don't want the Supreme Court to review the lower court's decision. "A spokesman for a trade group that represents Morpheus and other peer-to-peer networks said he didn't think the Supreme Court would overturn the decision. 'Historically, the Supreme Court has well understood that the overexpansion of the monopoly rights provided under copyright to content owners can and would interfere with other enormously important social values and commerce,' said Adam Eisgrau, executive director of the trade group P2P United," Reuters reported.

Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn in a statement on Friday that there's no reason the Supreme Court should review the decision. "That case was based on the principles established in the 1984 Betamax case, which has led to the largest and most profitable period of technological innovation in this country's history. Consumers, industry and our country have all benefited as a result." And the Journal noted that Morpheus parent "StreamCast called the appeal a 'doomed effort' and said it would continue to develop peer-to-peer technology."

The Supreme Court still has to decide if it will review the case. "The 46-page petition filed Friday was submitted in time for the case of MGM v. Grokster to be heard in the Supreme Court's current session -- provided the justices agree to take the case. A decision from the high court could come as early as next month if the defendants do not request a delay," the Hollywood Reporter noted.

Congress to the Rescue?

Lawmakers in the U.S. Congress have been doing their best to back-up the entertainment industry. "The timing of the petition also raised eyebrows on Friday," Wired News reported. "Earlier in the week, entertainment interests failed to broker a compromise with technology companies over the Induce Act, an effort to stop rampant copyright infringement on peer-to-peer networks. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) initially introduced the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act (SB2560) in June. The tech, CE and internet industries opposed the bill, fearing it could suffocate innovation across multiple sectors by broadly criminalizing the creation of products that could "induce" individuals to violate copyrights. Now with the Induce Act stalled in Congress, the entertainment industry seems to have turned to the Supreme Court -- which critics charge is the wrong venue."
Wired News: Hollywood Files P2P Appeal

In its coverage of the stalled bill, the Associated Press said: "The Induce Act, strongly supported by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would make manufacturers of such software liable for inducing people to commit copyright infringement. Consumer groups and some computer companies have complained that the bill's language is too broad and could apply liability to legitimate technology. Sensing an impasse after weeks of acrimonious debate, Mr. Hatch invited lawyers and lobbyists representing the sides to propose their own compromise in the waning days of this congressional session. But the sides agreed overnight that a compromise was increasingly unlikely given the tight deadline, according to participants in the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity."
The Associated Press via Canada's Globe & Mail: Talks Fail On File-Sharing Software

The Spy in Your Computer

In a front-page piece yesterday, The Washington Post was the latest media outlet to weigh in on the online scourge of spyware. An excerpt: "Experts estimate that tens of thousands of spyware and adware programs circulate on the Internet. For now, the problem of such unauthorized software almost exclusively affects Microsoft Windows users. It's by far the most popular operating system and the same features that make it so versatile also make it easier for intruders to secretly run programs on it. Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, in a speech to Silicon Valley technologists this month, said that while he's never had a virus infect his computer, he's been surprised to find many spyware and adware programs that he never authorized on it. He said he has directed the company to launch a new project to create a 'cure.' The National Cyber Security Alliance, a partnership between the tech industry and the Homeland Security Department, estimates that 90 percent of computers using high-speed Internet connections have collected at least one spyware or adware program, causing a loss in productivity, extra customer support, and repairs."
The Washington Post: Computer Users Face New Scourge (Registration required)

Meanwhile, the first federal spyware case may not be so cut and dry. The chief defendant, "a businessman notorious for his junk Internet mailings -- says federal regulators were politically motivated in targeting him for enforcement of new bills outlawing intrusive software," The Associated Press reported. "Sanford Wallace, accused of infecting computers with software that causes flurries of pop-up ads and then trying to sell a $30 fix for the problem, said neither he nor his businesses have done anything wrong, and that he is being persecuted for his past Internet involvement."
The Associated Press via USA Today: Wallace Denies Wrongdoing In Fed Anti-spyware Case

Click and Smell the Roses

Creating scents to help sell products is a booming business, the Wall Street Journal reported today in a front-page article. The paper reports on scent maker Frank Knight, who mixes up custom smells and sells them online or direct to customers. "Two years ago, the City Museum of Stockholm contacted Frank Knight with a strange request: Could he re-create the smell of an Egyptian mummy? Mr. Knight, who is in the smell business in a small way, had no firsthand knowledge. So he consulted the Internet, identified embalming fluids and perfumes likely to have been used by the Egyptians, mixed them up, threw in a few other odors, and came up with an essence that smelled really bad." Another company in the same line of business -- International Flavors & Fragrances -- "is creating the smells of meteorites and body odor, among others, for the pending New York Hall of Science exhibit on extraterrestrial life."
The Wall Street Journal: The Smell of Success Isn't Always Sweet In This Line of Work (Subscription required)

Gaming Gold

Going for the gold is not just for Olympic athletes. The American team took the gold at the World Cyber Games. "Amid fanfare fit for actual world-class athletes, five Americans with really quick fingers took home the gold medal in the popular "Counter Strike" competition of the World Cyber Games championships, capping five days of intense gaming by the world's elite. Team3D defeated the Titans of Denmark on Sunday in the counterterrorism-themed PC game, where operatives stake out ramshackle buildings with high-powered sniper rifles and other weapons to take out their foes," the Associated Press reported.
The Associated Press via The Washington Post: Americans Win Gold At World Cybergames (Registration required)

Dial 'D' For Dependency

Is the spread of cell phones making us all a little less self reliant? The New York Times has the goods on an interesting study that taps into a potential downside of cell phone use. "There is no question that instant access to a phone can save lives. People report fires and robberies, heart attacks and car crashes; parents keep tabs on children; grown children stay in touch with elderly parents. Knowing that you can always call for help in an emergency makes people feel safer. But they also tether people more closely and constantly to others, and in recent months a growing number of experts have identified and begun to study a distinct downside in that: cellphone use may be making us less autonomous and less capable of solving problems on our own, even when the answers are right in front of us," the paper reported. "According to Christine Rosen, a senior editor at the journal New Atlantis and the author of 'Our Cellphones, Ourselves,' a recent article exploring the social effects of the mobile phone, the ease of obtaining instant advice encourages cellphone users to respond to any uncertainty, crucial or trivial, by dialing instead of deciding. The green sweater or the blue, pizza or Chinese, the bridge or the tunnel -- why take responsibility for making up your own mind when you can convene a meeting in a minute?"
The New York Times: Saved, And Enslaved, By the Cell (Registration required)

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