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US Government: P2P Companies Don't Violate Copyright Laws

"Affirming a lower court decision, a federal appellate court ruled Thursday that the distributors of software used by millions of people to exchange music files over the Internet cannot be held liable for aiding copyright infringement."

"We live in a quicksilver technological environment with courts ill-suited to fix the flow of Internet innovation," Judge Thomas wrote. "The introduction of new technology is always disruptive of old markets, and particularly to those copyright owners whose works are sold through well-established distribution mechanisms. Yet, history has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests, whether the new technology be a player piano, a copier, a tape recorder, a video recorder, a personal computer, a karaoke machine or an MP3 player."

He added that "it is prudent for courts to exercise caution before restructuring liability theories for the purpose of addressing specific market abuses, despite their apparent present magnitude. Indeed, the Supreme Court has admonished us to leave such matters to Congress."


This doesn't absolve file sharers from their responsibility, of course, just the people who make the software.

This feels like a great victory for proponents of free speech. The "I may not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it,"1 crowd. Ultimately what this ruling says is that the technology that enables an activity is not the activity itself.

Personally, I'm in favor of P2P, anonymous internet, and privacy. It doesn't matter to me what happens on those networks, so long as they're allowed to exist. I have no problem with the RIAA prosecuting file sharers. That's their right, and anyone who shares files knows they're breaking the law. Just don't tell me that file sharing itself is illegal, because it's not. In fact, it's one method I was considering for distributing an audio drama I want to produce.

A lot of people seem to fall in to the "I would give up 20% of my freedom for an 80% increase in safety"2 camp, and I just don't agree with that position. There's always going to be another 20% to skim off the top. If you do that 3 times, you're at 50% of the rights you had before. You'll end up in a bomb shelter in a plastic bubble "for your own safety." Without naming names, three of the biggest movies of the summer seemed to be subtly (or not so subtly) about this very topic.

In a world where Ted Kennedy is prevented from boarding a plane because he was flagged as a suspected terrorist3, and the Patriot Act allows the government to snoop on all of our communications, the "an innocent citizen will have nothing to worry about" argument starts to smack of political doublespeak right out of George Orwell's 1984.

Mr. Kennedy wondered how ordinary citizens could navigate the tangled bureaucracy if a senator had so much trouble. "How are they going to be able to get to be treated fairly and not have their rights abused?" he asked.


When travel and the web of communication that ties us together is outlawed, only outlaws will travel or communicate with each other.


  1. Voltaire
  2. Someone said this after cameras were installed in Washington Square Park, in NYC.
  3. NY Times: Senator? Terrorist? A Watch List Stops Kennedy at Airport
    Between March 1 and April 6, airline agents tried to block Mr. Kennedy from boarding airplanes on five occasions because his name resembled an alias used by a suspected terrorist who had been barred from flying on airlines in the United States, his aides and government officials said.

page first created on Friday, August 20, 2004

© Mark Wieczorek