Friday, January 14, 2005

Paper: RIAA & Substantial Non-Infringing Uses

This year the U.S. Supreme Court will (re)examine the Betamax doctrine when hearing the MGM v.Grokster case. The Betamax doctrine from the 198 Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios established that as long as a technology is "merely capable of substantial noninfringing uses" the vendor of the technology can not be held liable for contributory infringement. Bluntly put, this means that there is no (contributory) liability if a technology is massively used for infringing uses, but is also capable of non-infringing uses. Speculations about the outcome of this examination, the hearings and what this will mean for the future of file-sharing networks have hightened.

A paper that speculates on the Betamax standard in the digital age is Can RIAA Survive Substantial Non-infringing Uses by James Brian Beckham.
Here's (some) of the abstract:

This submission discusses Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing cases as they relate to rights in digital media. The recent problems involving P2P stem from the Supreme Court Sony-Betamax case of 1984, which held that a device which facilitates copyright infringement by end-users will not create vendor liability if it is capable of a non-infringing use. This piece takes issue with the scope of the Sony decision, and beginning with an overview of the applicable legal terrain, and several notable cases in this context, moves on to discuss the proper standard to be applied in cases involving a charge of contributory copyright infringement. The paper next discusses the recent Grokster and Aimster cases, and the standards applied in those recent cases alleging manufacturer liability for contributory copyright infringement. My position is that the Seventh Circuit gives the Sony case a more plausible reading by taking a balancing approach to the intent of software distributors and the harms to rights holders - something mandated (and certainly to be revisited by the Supreme Court) by Sony, and that the Ninth Circuit glosses over the import of their decision, and employs a misplaced reliance on Sony.

From Sony to present, part II of this comment will explore some of the cases using substantial non-infringing uses as a defense and phenomenon which led to this discord in copyright jurisprudence between the rights of content owners and consumers. Part III will explore cases on opposite sides of the spectrum for finding of liability for vicarious or contributory copyright infringement and suggest that courts faced with the defense of substantial non-infringing uses employ a fact intensive approach utilizing the balancing of interests mandate given by the Court in Sony, or in the alternative, that legislative action may be necessary. Part IV will conclude with some final remarks about the direction of the doctrine, and possible solutions content owners can implement to stave off unauthorized distribution of protected works.


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