Movie industry grilled in P2P court case

Lawyers for the movie industry faced tough questioning by judges in the first day of the industry’s latest legal battle against peer-to-peer file sharing.

Movie studios want the US Supreme Court to rule that the developers of the Grokster and Morpheus P2P software should be held responsible for the illegal trading of copyrighted software using their technologies.

Judges expressed concern that making P2P software illegal could have a major detrimental effect on future software innovation and asked where the entertainment industry would stop in its pursuit of file sharers. Would they consider suing Apple because iPod users may be carrying around illegally acquired music, they asked.

The court is considering whether ruling for the movie studios would fly in the face of a 21-year-old established legal benchmark for technology and copyright.

That refers to the 1984 ruling which established that video recorder manufacturers could not be held legally responsible for people who them to record and keep TV programmes.

However, the movie industry lawyers pointed to a key part of the 1984 ruling, which excused VCR maker Sony because they could demonstrate that their Betamax machine had substantial legal usage, primarily for recording a programme to watch later but not store thereafter. On the contrary, they said, P2P usage almost exclusively comprises the exchanges of copyrighted material to be kept indefinitely.

The judges pressed lawyers for the P2P makers on this very point, asking why the court should adhere to the Betamax ruling when file sharing networks are used almost exclusively for illegal purposes and when P2P company’s profits are derived almost entirely from illegal activity.

Lawyers for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is backing the P2P side, said they were happy with the first day’s proceedings.

‘I thought the justices asked exactly the right questions,’said Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney. ‘Is it right that the entertainment industry should be in charge of the nation’s technology sector?’

The case continues.

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