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Supreme Court Strikes Blow Against Grokster, Says Cable Cos. May Keep Rival ISPs Off Lines

Supreme Court Strikes Blow Against Grokster, Says Cable Cos. May Keep Rival ISPs Off Lines

by , 12:20 PM EDT, June 27th, 2005

The Supreme Court on Monday issued a pair of rulings that will affect many Internet users, according to two Associated Press stories. In one ruling, it said that a trial against such file-sharing services as Grokster may proceed, given that those services' primary use is the illegal distribution of music, movies and other digital content. In another ruling, the justices decided that, unlike phone companies, cable providers don't need to share their lines with rivals offering broadband Internet service.

The Grokster case was a unanimous decision in which Justice David H. Souter wrote: "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," noted reporter Hope Yen.

Two lower courts had used a 1984 Supreme Court decision in favor of Sony as the basis for their rulings. Sony had been sued by Hollywood studios that argued VCRs would be used to make illegal copies of movies, an argument rejected by Supreme Court justices who decided that the company couldn't be held liable for its customers' actions. The current Supreme Court, however, ignored warnings that the lawsuits could hamper the development of such technology as the iPod and decided that Grokster and other peer-to-peer file-sharing services hold a greater degree of liability.

Ms. Yen also quoted Mr. Souter as writing: "There is substantial evidence in MGM's favor on all elements of inducement," meaning that Grokster's technology should also be looked at by the way it's marketed and whether the company tries to reduce copyright infringement by its users.

The other decision, which was also reported on by Ms. Yen, was a 6-3 ruling that keeps cable broadband lines from being considered in the same light as phone lines, which must be shared for DSL, long distance and local calling, and other services. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said that final say in the matter should lie with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which decided in March 2002 to label cable lines an "information service" different from phone lines.

With over 19 million homes connected to the Internet through cable broadband services, accounting for 60% of those who use high-speed Internet access, cable companies won't have to share lines the way phone companies have to allow Earthlink and other ISPs onto their lines. Ms. Yen reported that phone companies will now lobby the FCC to apply the same standard to their lines.

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