Washington, DC - A group of 25 entertainment companies filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court today, asking the Court to rewrite copyright law principles that establish when high-tech companies can be held liable for the copyright infringements of their customers.

The petition asks the Supreme Court to overturn the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in MGM v. Grokster, where the court ruled that Grokster and StreamCast Networks were not liable for the infringements committed by people using their software to share copyrighted works. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is counsel for StreamCast in the case.

"The entertainment industry petition is a frontal attack on the Betamax doctrine and threatens innovators of every stripe," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann, who argued the MGM v. Grokster case before the Ninth Circuit. The Betamax doctrine takes its name from a landmark 1984 Supreme Court case involving the Sony Betamax VCR. Often described as the Magna Carta of the technology industry, the Betamax doctrine makes it clear that innovators need not fear ruinous litigation from the entertainment industry so long as their inventions are "merely capable of substantial noninfringing uses."

In today's petition, the entertainment industry urges the Court to reverse that established rule and impose on innovators a "legal duty either to have designed their services differently to prevent infringing uses, or to take reasonable steps going forward to do so." Under such a rule, Sony's Betamax VCR would never have seen the light of day, since Sony could have designed it differently or could have modified it after Disney and Universal Studios complained.

The entertainment industry's petition was filed just one day after Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced that the Senate was not ready to adopt his Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act, S. 2560 (formerly known as the INDUCE Act). He suggested that Congress would return to the issue next year. "The entertainment industry appears to think that it can treat the Supreme Court and Congress interchangeably in pushing for their rewrite of copyright law," said von Lohmann. "But it's Congress that writes the Copyright Act, not the courts. The Supreme Court will not be eager to end-run Congress on this complex legislative issue."

Added EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz, "The RIAA and MPAA refuse to accept the reality that consumers and technology companies have rights too. They are hell-bent on writing their own laws, one way or another."

EFF will file a response brief with the Supreme Court on behalf of StreamCast in mid-November. It will be several months before the Supreme Court determines whether to hear the case.


Fred von Lohmann
Senior Intellectual Property Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Jason Schultz
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

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