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Are P2P companies responsible for the law-breaking actions of their users? That's the question lawyers from the content industry and file-sharing software suppliers Grokster and Morpheus went to court yesterday to argue.

Less than a year ago, the two services prevailed in a lawsuit brought against them by the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Ass. of America (MPAA). The two trade bodies alleged that Grokster and Morpheus were indeed complicit in any copyright infringement carried out on the ad-hoc networks supported by their applications.

However, the Court ruled that, like cassette deck manufacturers, the software developers could not be held responsible for illegal file transfers since their code could also be used for perfectly legal file-shares. US District Court Judge Stephen Wilson dismissed the RIAA and MPAA's case.

Last August, the MPAA and RIAA appealed against that ruling, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal opened its hearing yesterday.

In court, the content industry's advocates argued before the Tribunal that Grokster and Morpheus should be forced to incorporate technology that blocks the sharing of copyright material - essentially to turn them into copyright police.

That's not our job, the P2P purveyors' lawyers responded, Reuters reports.

Grokster's attorney, Michael Page, noted that if the two companies are held liable for illegal file-shares, so too would ISPs, CD and DVD burner manufacturers and other software suppliers, too.

Which is, of course, exactly the outcome the content industry wants. Page and fellow attorney Fred Von Lohmann, for Morpheus, believe that the MPAA and co. simply want to shut the P2P companies down. That, the lawyers insist, is not the job of the courts but of the law makers who decide the extent of the copyright regulations.

Judge Wilson's verdict was prompted by Sony's success in a similar case in 1984. Then, the court ruled that the VCR maker was not responsible whenever one of its machines was used to copy a videocassette without the permission of the copyright holder.

What's changed? Appellate Judge John Noonan asked. Russell Frackman, attorney for the MPAA and co., replied that Grokster and Morpheus could incorporate technology to block copyright infringement, something Sony could not have done in the early 1980s.

The case continues. ®

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