Coalition supports RIAA, MPAA in Grokster case

The Dixie Chicks and other artists sign supporting briefs

WASHINGTON - A broad group of trade groups, recording artists, and state attorneys general have filed briefs in support of the U.S. entertainment industry in its U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit against vendors of peer-to-peer (P-to-P) software.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) announced during a press conference Tuesday that about 20 briefs have been filed in support of their position in the MGM vs. Grokster case, to be argued before the Supreme Court in March.

"These (P-to-P) enterprises have engaged in -- for profit and on a massive and widespread basis -- the greatest ongoing theft of intellectual property that the world has ever seen," said Theodore B. Olson, former solicitor general for the U.S. government and now representing the group Defenders of Property Rights, a copyright-focused legal foundation. "These enterprises were launched with the singular purpose of enabling and profiting from the violations of copyright laws, and taking the works of thousands and thousands of artists without compensation."

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Grokster case after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that Grokster Ltd., Morpheus distributor StreamCast Networks Inc., and a site operated by StreamCast called Musiccity.com were not liable for copyright violations by their users.

The RIAA and MPAA announcement of their friend-of-the-court briefs comes a day after five technology-focused groups filed their own briefs asking the Supreme Court to reaffirm a 21-year-old ruling protecting most technology companies from being held liable for their customers' copyright infringement. In its 1984 Sony Betamax ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that makers of technologies with significant noninfringing uses were not liable for their users' copyright violations.

Representatives of the RIAA and MPAA denied Tuesday that they are trying to overturn the Betamax decision, but instead they want the court to rule that technologies primarily intended to allow copyright violations be held liable.

P2P United, a trade group representing both Grokster and Morpheus, argues that the entertainment industry would threaten technological innovation if it gets its way in court. If the court rules that the vendors are held liable for the "misuse of a new technology," technologies such as the Internet itself would not have been allowed to exist, said Adam Eisgrau, executive director of P2P United.

"If that was the case, most of the technological products in the 20th century would not have seen the light of day," Eisgrau said. "We're confident that any argument that, if accepted, would chill technological innovation will be rejected by the Supreme Court."

Among those signing onto briefs supporting the entertainment industry's side were 40 state attorneys general; U.S. senators Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican; three major sports leagues, including the National Football League; the Association of American Publishers Inc.; the Independent Film & Television Alliance; and six music publishing groups, including the Songwriters Guild of America.

Also signing onto briefs supporting the RIAA and MPAA were several recording artists, including country artists Brooks and Dunn, Reba McEntire, the Dixie Chicks, pop/rock artists the Eagles, the Barenaked Ladies, Bonnie Raitt, Avril Lavigne, Elvis Costello, and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.

Unauthorized file-trading using P-to-P software is causing people in the music industry, including CD store clerks, staff songwriters, roadies, and producers, to lose their jobs, said Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America.

"I'm the victim of illegal downloading," Carnes said. "I've been robbed, my property has been stolen, and it's still being stolen every day. I'm here to tell you people are getting hurt."

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