RIAA, studios gain P2P legal aid

Hollywood studios and record labels are getting allies in their quest to overturn a court ruling that said file-swapping software companies aren’t responsible for the copyright infringement of their users.

Several groups, including a list of legal scholars, international copyright organizations, legal music services and other copyright holder groups filed “friend of the court” briefs Tuesday, asking that an April ruling upholding the legality of file-swapping services such as Grokster and StreamCast’s Morpheus be overturned.

“(T)he district court’s misapplication of law, if permitted to stand, will create loopholes in the law…that will frustrate efforts to limit online piracy and serve to encourage and embolden potential infringers of creative works,” read the brief submitted by copyright holders ranging from Major League Baseball to the Screen Actors Guild. “If allowed to stand, it would permit companies such as those operated by defendants to misappropriate the royalties meant for copyright holders…to an extent that would be limited only by their technological imagination.”

The briefs come as part of a renewed legal battle over the status of file-swapping services such as Morpheus and Kazaa, which were emboldened by federal Judge Stephen Wilson’s surprise ruling in April. In that decision, he said file-swapping companies should be compared to VCR makers, which are not responsible for their customers’ copyright infringements.

“Grokster and StreamCast are not significantly different from companies that sell home video recorders or copy machines, both of which can be and are used to infringe copyrights,” Wilson wrote.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Motion Picture Association of America, and the National Music Publishers Association collectively appealed that decision earlier this month.

In the meantime, the recording industry has started to seek lawsuits against individual file swappers alongside file-swapping companies, hoping to drive people off the peer-to-peer networks. For nearly two months, the RIAA has been using subpoenas to obtain the identity of “egregious” file swappers from Internet service providers and will file lawsuits beginning next month.

Included in Tuesday’s friend-of-the-court briefs were law professors from Harvard University, New York University and other universities; Pressplay, MusicNet, Full Audio and other music services; and international film, music, video and other copyright organizations.

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