Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Grokster loses

When I first heard today that Grokster lost their Supreme Court case by a unanimous decision, my reaction was “Oh, bollocks”. In theory, it means that companies which distribute software may be liable for the actions of their users should they break laws, such as infringe copyright. So, for example, if you downloaded copyrighted works using a Bittorrent client, the makers of that client would also be liable for allowing you to do so.
However, if you read the judges’ decision more closely, you’ll see this sentence (emphasis mine):

We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.

What this implies is that if you create some file sharing software and then promote it as a way of downloading copyrighted music for free, then you’d be liable. This is actually quite significant – if your file sharing software is created primarily for the sharing of non-infringing work and somehow warns or discourages users from sharing work in a way that would infringe copyright, then it’s likely that you’d be standing on firmer ground.
From what I have read on the linked page, it would actually seem like the judges have concentrated on the specifics of the Grokster case and not peer-to-peer and file sharing software in general. They’re not going after the technology but are going after those that are abusing it, even if that includes software makers. I suppose that’s fair.
Maybe it’s not such a bad decision after all. But then I’m not a lawyer. In any case, we’ll have to see what happens.


  1. A Big Blow for P2P

    The US Supreme Court has ruled that file-sharing companies are to blame for what users do with their software.
    Due to this ruling the music, movie and software industries could sue the likes of KaZaa, Morpheus, Grokster and many other P2P companie…

  2. I think this case will create other similar cases, which will eventually bring down open-source. As trackbacked.

  3. How had would it be for a lawyer to twist the wording in such a way as to not only hit BitTorrent, but possibly hardware like iPod and even Computers like Dell/Macintosh. I mean, iPods and other MP3 players are why these people want the files, and computers are what are used to gain them. That and ISP’s, Cable Modems, Routers, the chair that the “bad person” sits on, etc…
    Even if the RIAA and MPAA successfully kill all the “obvious” methods of P2P, there is still IRC and with a little bit of work, a client could be made to make transfering files via IRC pretty easy too.
    I truly think the solution to this is to “embrase” the technology and work “with” the P2P software makers instead of against them.

  4. Grokster loses to MGM in the Supreme Cour

    The US Supreme Court has ruled against Grokster. This means that P2P companies can now be held liable for their users’ copyright infringement. This pretty much opens the floodgates for the movie and music moguls to sue the pants off any P2P develope…

  5. Actually Dave M. that’s a very good point. There’s other ways, I like HTTP!
    IRC, MSN or P2P via. Skype hasn’t been considered.
    Also, it would damage the economy by making MP3 players less popular.

  6. It’s a US ONLY ruling…

  7. It’s a US ONLY ruling…

    Yes, but if American companies stop making P2P software it’ll affect us.

  8. As I understand the ruling (which is a light read at only 24 pages), it will not affect computer or MP3 players, because unlike Grokster or Streamcast, Apple and Dell are not convincing people to buy their products by suggesting that they give access to a wide variety of illegal content. The reason that Grokster and Streamcast lost the case is because they began their P2P networks by advertising to Napster users that their new networks would take the place of Napster, allowing them to download even more copyrighted music.

  9. I find it hard to believe that Grokster and especially Streamcast was advertising that people should share copyrighted material. My memory of Streamcast was basically an internet radio station. Now, hackers found a way of pulling down the songs that was being played, but how is that Streamcast’s fault. I’m able to record music off the radio, how is that the radio station’s fault?
    You better believe that the RIAA and the MPAA are going to do everything possible to “protect” their property. They have billions of dollars to pursue legal actions.
    It’s certainly not in the best interest to go after MP3 players and computers, but if that is what it takes to stop the bleeding… (in the eyes and minds of the RIAA and MPAA of course)

  10. Dave, I think you may be getting Streamcast, the company behind Grokster, and SHOUTCast, a technology by Nullsoft for streaming internet radio, mixed up 🙂 .

  11. Dave M., page 6 in the opinion (freely available in PDF format) starts thus:

    The record is replete with evidence that from the moment Grokster and StreamCast began to distribute their free software, each one clearly voiced the objective that recipients use it to download copyrighted works, and each took active steps to encourage infringement.

    Pages 6-9 describe how both Grokster and Streamcast purposely advertised software compatible with the OpenNap protocol to users of Napster with claims that there would be just as many copyrighted songs on their network as were available on Napster’s.

    My memory of Streamcast was basically an internet radio station. Now, hackers found a way of pulling down the songs that was being played, but how is that Streamcast’s fault. I’m able to record music off the radio, how is that the radio station’s fault?

    If you do a search for Streamcast on Google, you will find that they own Morpheus, which is why they are involved in this case.

  12. Neil pointed out that I was thinking of SHOUTCast. I stand corrected on that point.
    I still find it hard to believe that someone would openly advertise the ability to download illegal content. However, if the courts have physical evidence to back up the claim, I can hardly refute it. I don’t claim to know what they have and don’t have the time to read the PDF. So I will take your word for it.
    I can still only hope that the RIAA and MPAA stop there, but with their past track record, I seriously doubt it.