The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that developers of software violate federal copyright law when they provide computer users with the means to share music and movie files downloaded from the internet.
unanimously? something is seriously wrong here. courts have ruled before... repeatedly... that manufacturers of products that have legal uses cannot be held liable is users decide to use their products illegally. this is how weapons manufacturers and the like get away with making products that are expressly designed to destroy living creatures.
so smith & wesson etc can pump out millions of guns and no matter how many people get murdered, they won't get in trouble. but if a software company creates a product that could potentially help people infringe on "intellectual property"... help! save us from the evil pirates, oh mighty supreme court!
according to the court, intellectual property is more important than physical safety.
here's the cnn article; not much useful info there now but hopefully it'll fill out as details come in.
update: yahoo news (really AP) has more:
"We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by the clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties," Justice David H. Souter wrote for the court.
At issue was whether the file-sharing services should be held liable even if they have no direct control over what millions of online users are doing with the software they provide for free. As much as 90 percent of songs and movies copied on the file-sharing networks are downloaded illegally, according to music industry filings.
The entertainment industry said it needed protection against the billions of dollars in revenue they lose to illegal swapping. Consumer groups worried that expanded liability will stifle the technology revolution of the last two decades that brought video cassette recorders, MP3 players and Apple's iPod.
Companies will have to pay music and movie artists for up to billions in losses if they are found to have promoted illegal downloading.
Two lower courts previously sided with Grokster without holding a trial. They each based their decisions on the 1984 Supreme Court ruling that Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE - news). could not be sued over consumers who used its VCRs to make illegal copies of movies.
The lower courts reasoned that, like VCRs, the file-sharing software can be used for "substantial" legal purposes, such as giving away free songs, free software or government documents. They also said the file-sharing services were not legally responsible because they don't have central servers pointing users to copyright material.
But in Monday's ruling, Souter said lower courts could find the file-sharing services responsible by examining factors such as how companies marketed the product or whether they took easily available steps to reduce infringing uses.
"There is substantial evidence in MGM's favor on all elements of inducement," Souter wrote.
in the discussion on snuggles, it has been pointed out that a large part of the ruling was grokster's "intent". proving intent is extremely difficult (which is why you so rarely hear about successful libel hearings, etc).
so while the result is not what we would've hoped (which would've followed a completely obvious reading of the betamax case, holding that grokster cannot be held liable), the entertainment industry still has an enormous burden of proof to overcome.