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Supreme Court to probe P2P in March

Date set for oral arguments

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The US Supreme Court will begin hearing spoken testimonies from the movie industry and the world of peer-to-peer networking on 29 March in order to help it decide whether P2P software providers are responsible for the actions of their users.

The hearings will mark the latest step in the music and movie industries' attempts to have P2P software nobbled in order to prevent massive-scale copyright infringement, and to have P2P companies make good the revenue the business claims to have lost to that infringement.

But action brought against P2P software companies Grokster and Streamcast failed to deliver that result at either the District Court or the appeal court level.

In each instance, the judgement in favour of P2P were made on the basis of the precedent set by the 1984 Sony Betamax case. Then, Sony was sued for offering a domestic video cassette recorder that allowed users to copy content without permission. The case went Sony's way when the electronics giant was able to demonstrate that its machines also had entirely legal uses.

Ditto P2P software. Now, however, the likes of the Motion Picture Ass. of America (MPAA) claim that the Sony case is not a suitable precedent for the current action. Back in 1984, Sony could do nothing to prevent the illegal uses its kit might be put to without hindering the legal uses, the MPAA and others argue. P2P software developers, on the other hand, can code their apps to block illegal file-sharing, they say.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case by July.

Meanwhile, the Australian federal court is expected shortly to decide whether Kazaa owner Sharman Networks is guilty of contributory copyright infringement as the local music industry alleges. ®

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