The ever continuing creation and circulation of new software through the Internet has pulled the courts deeper into a legal predicament. Due to this budding expertise, legal intellectuals and courts are vigorously debating the advantages of proving liable the gatekeepers who actually indulged in distribution of products that facilitate the violation of copyrights. According to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1988, a copyright owner can sue infringers for up to $ 1, 50,000 per offense.
It also permitted the RIAA and other claimants to search the Internet histories of said copyright infringers through their Internet Service Providers [ISPs] even without the knowledge of concerned individuals. ISPs have vehemently opposed such intrusion, unsuccessfully and it is to be noted that the subpoenas have attracted criticism from congress as well. Punishing the real infringers is turning to be arduous task in digital copyright law.
The question now arises as to who is the real infringer, whether the Internet users who actually download the copyrighted music or the gatekeeper or Internet Service Providers who facilitate such free downloading and infringement of copyright law. This question has become greater relevance as RIAA recently filed suits against some real infringers rather than on peer-to-peer [p2p] networks which had sent shockwaves through legal community.
In this legal tussle, one district court actually declined to ban the provision of p2p software by Grokster, compelling the recording industry to file suit against real users of p2p software. However, the copyright owners are seriously appealing the decision made in favor of the software providers, looking for to influence the Ninth Circuit to view the software companies responsible and thereby desist the requirement to pursue individual infringers. MGM v GROKSTER Supreme Court of USA held in Metro-Goldwyn –Mayer Studios Inc.
V Grokster, Ltd that one who distributes a mechanism with the intention of encouraging its use to violate copyrights, as demonstrated by clear expression or other confirmatory steps initiated to encourage infringement, is responsible for the violation of copyright by the actions of unrelated persons. The most advertised legal suits seem to be slackening traffic at music sites like Grokster, Kazaa and Morpheus which encouraged illegal file sharing. According to RIAA, at any given period, about 3 to 5.
1 million Internet users are on the Internet, downloading music through these gatekeepers and infringing copyright law. It has been estimated that sales have declined from $ 15 billion to $ 11 billion in the last four years itself. Though, the Supreme Court initiative to identify new rules for a digital age, the copious observations made by the Justices in Grokster case resulted in a gloomy standard with virtually no application outside the specific facts of that case.
Delivering an undivided opinion mainly on the realities of the case, the Judges subsequently disintegrated on the relevance of law, held blurred observations without any practical means to control the ever-increasing contagion of online piracy while at the same time offering inconsistent applications of the earlier standard for gatekeeper liability in the Sony case. Thus, the court’s effort to solve the copyright infringement problem runs the peril of trespassing the judicial branch’s authority by shaping a lawmaking strategy issue better decided by the authority of Congress.
Metro-Goldwyn –Mayer Studios [MGM] filed a suit in the fall of 2000 against StreamCast Networks and Grokster contending that the defendants wittingly and knowingly distributed their software so as to facilitate the users to reproduce and circulate copyrighted products infringing the Copyright Act. Further, MGM alleged that software offered by these two companies acted no major noninfringing intention. The software facilitated the neitzens through he use of p2p [peer-to-peer] networks, to connect with the other users and download both the noncopyrighted and copyrighted video and music.
In their lawsuit, MGM not only claimed damages for the loss arising out of infringement of copyrighted products which was indulged by neitizens but also preyed for an injunction to stop the continued distribution of the software. Many of the facts offered in the case were acknowledged by either party. At the first instance, the neitizens were freely transferring music files that have copyrights which were freely accessible due to availability of software. Secondly, neitizens who were downloading the copyrighted video and music were indulged in illegitimate actions in contravention of the Copyright Act.
Respondent’s argued that, under the principle followed by the Court in Sony case, the product was ‘capable of major nonifnringing use. ’ The Court rather relied its decision on the distributors’ lack of real knowledge about particular actions of violation and the product’s potentiality of major legitimate usage. On appeal, the decision of the District Court was confirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which based its decision on the footing that a defendant was accountable for causative violation only when they had acquaintance of the infringement committed by neitizens and materially responsible for the infringement.
The Ninth Circuit viewed that the software was capable of major non-infringing applications and opined that liability under the Sony principle did not occur in this case. Further, the companies were decided not to be liable for the acts of their users due to the decentralized configuration of the software. As such, the Ninth Court observed that StramCast and Grokster did not materially responsible for the actions of their users as they played no role in the search, reclamation, or storage of infringing files.
According the Ninth Court, the only role played by StreamCast and Grokster was the provision of free software while the infringement was committed by the users. Aggrieved by the decision of the Ninth Court , MGM appealed to Supreme Court thereby presenting a novel legal issue to the Court: to decide ‘under what scenario , the distributor of a product competent of both lawful and unlawful usage is responsible for the actions of violation of copyright by unrelated persons exploiting the product’.
The opinion of the court was authored by the Justice Souter which described that,” one who distributes a mechanism with the intention of encouraging its usage to violate copyright, as demonstrated by apparent expression or other positive steps pursued to promote contravention, is responsible for the consequential actions of violations by unrelated users. “ The Supreme Court thus viewed that both the District Court and the Ninth Circuit court had bungled the Supreme Court’s verdict on Sony’s case.
Thus, the lower Courts had erroneously established that a producer cannot be held contributorily responsible for the infringing exploitation of a product. Further, the Court was of the view that a lack of precise awareness of infringement and failure to act upon that lack of familiarity did not block the application of other theories of secondary liability. Justice Souter observed that under Sony, distributors or gatekeepers may not be held responsible under the hypothesis of contributory liability where the neitizens are acting upon their own will or wish.
Moreover, Sony did not foreclose other avenues to liability in situations such as were presented by Stream Cast and Grokster. Justice Souter further opined that nothing in Sony case demands courts to disregard proof of objective to encourage infringement, if such evidence presents. Contrary to the views of the lower courts, Sony was not meant, to exclude principles of fault-based liability that emanate under general law.
Thus, Justice Souter relied upon this finding and viewed that the Sony rule as regards to third-party accountability would not relate where evidence goes beyond a product’s features or the awareness that a product may be put to infringing applications, and instead demonstrates actions or statements directed to encourage infringement. Supreme Court held that both of the parties were not correct in their pleadings applying the Sony test to the facts of the present case.
Justice Souter held that the appropriate legal principle on which rule is not the contributory liability of StreamCast and Grokster under Sony, but rather under common-law principle of ‘inducement’ infringement. The presence of evidence substantiating a meaningful inducement on the part of a gatekeeper who will trounce the unwillingness of the courts to charge a third party liable where the defendant distributes a product suitable for some noninfringing, lawful application.
In this case, according to Justice Souter, there were three features of the evidence in the trial documents revealed that the respondents provoked the infringement of copyrights and acted with an unlawful intent which includes the following; ? Encouraging the illicit use of their programs through their marketing activities. ? Failure on the part of defendants to make efforts to restrain the illegal use of the products ;and ? Deriving substantial profit due to the illegal activities by users of the programs.
As regard to the each of the above features, the Court observed particular qualities of the distributors especially noteworthy. Further, in this case, both the defendant companies demonstrated a longing to satisfy the demand for illegal downloading of copy righted products by explicitly endeavoring to appeal to previous users of Napster. Further, neither of the respondents installed or tried to offer any filter so as to desist the infringing activities pursued by the users of their product.
According to Court, this clearly demonstrated that the respondents’ wish to help its users’ infringement. Further, the revenue, the respondents derived from selling advertising space illustrated that the respondents had a wish to augment the infringing use of their products. Hence, the Court scrutinized the totality of the scenario, observing the record in the pretext of all the evidences offered and granting no single element more weight than the others.
According to Justice Souter, the intention of the case, was harmonizing the value of copy-righted creative pursuits and the value of novelty in communications and technology. Further, if much emphasis is given to safeguarding the rights of the copyright holders, then it may result in impediment in the growth of new technology. However, if more emphasis is given on permitting the free development of new products without fear of liability, the less safeguard the courts offer to the owners’ of copyrights.
In this case, Justice Ginsburg made a concurring opinion. While she concurred with the holding of the case as regards to third-party liability on the theory of encouraging infringement , but had given her opinion separately on the applicability of Sony’s doctrine to the existing case. Justice Ginsburg maintained that, even under the stand laid own in Sony, there is ‘at least an ‘a real issue as to material fact and on the liability of StreamCast and Grokster, on a theory of contributory infringement.
With the both defendants, there remained a substantial question as to whether the free software is capable of major noninfringing use. However, there existed only generalized or anecdotal evidence as regards to potential noninfringing application of the software. Due to this fact, the lower court were unable to conclude whether, at the time of summary judgment, the free software were capable of a major noninfringing application.
According to Justice Ginsberg, the test requiring that a product be ‘capable’ of major noninfringing application necessarily involves that real noninfringing application must be demonstrated. Hence, she concluded that, if the case is not decided on remand by summary judgment in favor of MGM on the ground of encouraging infringement by StreamCast and Grokster, she would have the lower court might have annulled the summary judgment in favour of StreamCast and Grokster relying that it does not conform to the demand set off by the Court in Sony case.
Though, the Supreme Court verdict is unanimous, the contradictory relevance of the Sony test and the distinctive circumstances of this particular case, manifest anything but cohesions, thereby resulting copyright owners and developers uncertain of the Court’s likely action of future cases. However, Supreme Court verdict in Grokster case was termed as a major victory for copyright holders. However, the darker side of Grokster case is that analogues cases may be filed in the lower appellate courts before the Supreme Court finalizes a contemptuous decision in the sphere of vicarious liability for third-party users.
The decision in the Grokster case raises many issues like resolution of many controversial cyber law issues, the impact the decision will have on modern technology, the impact on copyright safeguard measures and the part of the judiciary in shaping the laws of cyber law. However, in Grokster case, Supreme Court did nothing to resolve the question of liability in scenarios where inducement on the part of the distributor is in existence.
It is to be noted that there existed striking differences between Napster case and Grokster case. In Napster case, it was clearly established that Napster did encouraged infringement. But in Grokster case, there existed a different set of facts is tenuous at best. It is to be noted during the oral arguments in the Grokster case , Justices Scalia and Breyer deliberated the question of how the Court’s ruling would impact the inventor in his garage who does not yet aware the impacts of his technology.
For instance, the inventor of a photocopier offers instruction on the operation of the machine, including instructions on how to make photocopies from the machine. At this juncture, the inventor has encouraged the users to infringe copyright by offering the mechanism, not closely monitoring the users and rather educating them on the tools of infringement. The solution to this problem remains unanswered with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Grokster.
It is to be noted that Grokster case has not advanced any solution to the issue but rather made it more complex. In Grokster case, three justices, led by Justice Breyer, stating that summary judgment under Sony was rather correct whereas other three justices concurring with the Justice Souter that a discussion of the Sony standard is not required to the holding of the case. As a result, a legal quandary was rather emanated where the lower courts are left with little settled law and perhaps even more uncertainty than previously subsisted.
Courtney from Study Moose
Hi there, would you like to get such a paper? How about receiving a customized one? Check it out https://goo.gl/3TYhaX