What the Grokster decision might (or might not) mean to me

Jim Porter and Martine Courant Rife have a paper on the WIDE resource at Michigan State about the recent Supreme Court decision against Grokster and what it might mean for universities. It’s interesting reading. Three thoughts:

  • Sure, I downloaded some music (illegally) from sources like limewire and napster back in the day, but I gave up on it pretty quickly. I thought that the time it took to download illegal tunes and the poor quality of the dowloads just wasn’t worth it. I have been happy with what I can get from iTunes though. It’s not free, but it is reasonably priced, it’s clearly legal, and the sound quality is good. I dunno, maybe it’s because I’m middle-aged and (reasonably) well paid, but I am just not willing to put up with the hassle of free downloads.
  • During my recent travels (I think while I was in southern Minnesota), I heard this story on “On the Media,” an NPR news show about (duh) “the media.” In this report about the decision, the legal expert basically suggests that a) the Supreme Court’s decision was actually a “non-decision” in that what this decision really does is put off the question of “legitimate” file sharing for another day, and b) it boils down to the idea that Grokster (et al) were ruled against because they were kind of jerks. Here’s a quote from legal expert Michael Madison about that:

    “I have a lot of confidence that firms that are already in mature markets, say for example Google, which is a company that takes advantage of intellectual property rights in a number of complex ways, Google is likely going to be able to innovate without a lot of concern, in my opinion, from this Grokster ruling. What the court is really trying to do in a not particularly elegant way is distinguish good guys from bad guys.”

  • Personally, I’d like to see the Supreme Court rule on copyright and such for universities once and for all. Porter and Rife write in the summary of their paper:

    Clearly universities are not promoting copyright infringement by their students, as were Grokster and StreamCast – and universities could just as easily use the Court’s opinion in Grokster to defend its practices. However, the recording and film industries are likely to use the ruling as a basis for litigation holding universities responsible for copyright infringements by students – and such action could well have an unfortunate chilling effect on universities.

    I am no copyright attorney, that’s for sure, and I haven’t studied this stuff to the extent that other people (like these two) have. But I guess I’d still like to see a test case where some copyright holder goes after a university for promoting “fair use.” I have to think that the courts, even the conservative ones, would value the promotion of ideas at a university more than the film industry. And I guess I’d also like to see this ruling because, as far as I can tell, no one really understands what is or isn’t “fair use” of copyrighted materials. Maybe if there was a test case, some of this confusion could be cleared up.

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