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RIAA, MPAA appeal against ‘Grokster is legal’ ruling

Precedent schmecedent

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The Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) has launched its appeal against an April US District Court ruling that the Grokster P2P media-sharing network does not infringe copyrights juts because its software may allow users to do so.

The appeal, filed on Monday with the Los Angeles District Court, is backed by the movie business' bruiser, the Motion Picture Ass. of America (MPAA), and the National Music Publishers' Association.

On 25 April, US District Court Judge Stephen Wilson dismissed joint action brought by the RIAA, MPAA and NMPA against Grokster and Streamcast, owner of the Morpheus P2P service. Judge Wilson essentially ruled that, like the providers of cassette decks and CD-R units, neither P2P service could be held responsible for any infringement of copyright performed by their users. Just like said consumer electronics recording kit, Grokster and Morpheus have legitimate uses, Wilson said.

Wilson's decision was backed by case law, primarily Universal's failed attempt to block the sale of Sony video recording products, and CBS records action against UK cassette recording kit maker Amstrad, both in the 1980s.

However, the three industry associations want that ruling overturned, and have asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse Judge Wilson's verdict.

Their argument is that the companies behind Grokster and Morpheus both make money out of encouraging users to share music and movies illegally. Both services are paid for by advertising, and by providing ad-free versions of their sharing software at a price.

But just because they are providing software, they're no different from Sony et al. who sell Hi-Fi equipment or PC peripherals that allow CDs to be copied, directly or via by cabling playback and recording devices together.

Ironically, Grokster CEO Wayne Rosso told The Register last week that he has sought licences from the major labels represented by the RIAA to build a music sharing network not unlike the Apple iTunes Music Store model. Apple allows single tracks to be bought, burned and shared locally for a small, one-off fee. Rosso says the labels have refused his request.

Rosso has asked the UK's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to investigate the labels' refusal, claiming it is an example of anti-competitive behaviour on their part. He also plans to take the issue to the European Commission's anti-trust team, he told The Register.

Rosso's opposite number at Streamcast, Michael Weiss, responded to the new RIAA, MPAA and NMPA action by re-affirming Judge Wilson's initial verdict and promised to take the case to a higher court if necessary.

"We expect to prevail and if we do not, we will take this to the Supreme Court if we must," he said.

Weiss himself has proposed solutions to the music and movie industries' beef with the P2P community: compulsory royalties like those paid by broadcasters or even levies on recording media which would be passed on to artists. Such taxes are levied in many European countries. ®

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