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All Sharing Is Not Alike
The US Supreme Court today issued its much-awaited ruling on the file-sharing software case known as Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer Studios Inc. V. Grokster, Ltd..
Basically, the court ruled that producing technology that could, among many possible uses, allow the sharing of copyrighted works, is not illegal, but that that doesn't mean that companies can be hinting or promoting to the public that they can use these services to download free copies of songs by Christina Aguilera or Modest Mouse or whomever without permission, and then claiming in court that they're within the bounds of the law because a few people conceivably could be using the programs to download the public-domain works of Dante. An earlier 9th Circuit Court ruling held that the companies are simply providing the tools and users are deciding how to use them. The Supreme Court ruling says that the software itself is not illegal, but that if companies promote, or don't take steps to prevent, illegal activity using it, they are liable for copyright violation.
What we'd like to see, rather than this ongoing fight (and it will be ongoing, because what this ruling does is give companies permission to sue each other, without clearly defining what it means to condone illegal file sharing), is more artists and companies allowing some music, videos, or other files to be used legitimately on these networks or other public "space". Some musicians, including Wilco (who are cited in the ruling), REM, Tom Petty, and Aimee Mann, have allowed some of their songs to be downloaded or shared for free and then made money from the sales of CDs or concert tickets. The technology has been around for a while, the Supreme Court seems to agree that it's not going away, and one would think it would be to companies' advantage to find ways to work with it rather than against it. Of course, this would require them to produce works that are enticing enough that people are willing to pay for them.