Several large technology corporations will urge the U.S. Supreme Court today to continue to shield businesses and innovators from legal responsibility if their products or services are used by consumers for illegal acts.
The companies, including industry giants Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., Google, America Online Inc. and Apple Computer Inc., will argue in court filings that the innovations that have helped fuel U.S. economic growth could grind to a halt if protections from liability were stripped away.
At issue is the continuing popularity of Internet file-sharing services, whose software lets users swap digital music, videos and software regardless of whether they are copyrighted works that should be paid for each time they are sent to another consumer.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments March 29 in a suit brought by the motion picture and recording industries against Grokster, one of the leading "peer-to-peer" filing-sharing services. Representatives of all sides on the issue agree that the case could determine the fate of services such as Grokster, KaZaa and Morpheus, which in the eyes of the entertainment industry are responsible for the pirating of millions of dollars in losses annually.
Technology companies and Internet service providers do not defend illegal file-sharing; several software companies continue to be victimized by the practice.
But many of them have differed with some of the entertainment industry's tactics in combating the phenomenon. These include efforts to get Congress to mandate the insertion of copyright-protection technology into products, or to create new legal liability for businesses whose offerings might induce copyright infringement.
Similarly, technology firms do not want the Supreme Court to set a precedent that leaves every potential inventor worried about being liable if someone uses the invention in an illegal way.
The companies, which are filing as neutral parties in the case, "do not condone -- indeed, they strongly condemn -- the use of peer-to-peer technologies to violate copyright law," according to a draft of a filing by the Digital Media Association, in conjunction with two other trade organizations, the Information Technology Association of America and NetCoaliton.
"Neither, however, do [the companies] support the substantial broadening of the standards for secondary liability that petitioners urge this Court to adopt."
The filing, which is also supported by the public-interest group Center for Democracy and Technology, argues that the case should be sent back to a lower court to determine if Grokster violated existing copyright laws by actively encouraging and helping its users to be pirates.