John Walker's Electronic House

CW 175

Copyright Watch 175

The most significant copyright case of all time is taking place at the moment. John Walker just wanted to check you’d noticed.

It’s an important time. Various file sharing software companies like Grokster and StreamCast Networks are head to head in the US Supreme Court with the record industry’s Big Four and major Hollywood studios, in a case that could redefine what “file sharing” actually is.

Tension is high for anyone involved in file swapping, oddly whether they’re involved in developing illegally minded software or not. Five years of court rulings all reach a head in this single bout between the heavyweight industry and the lightweight indy-developers. But thanks to the remarkably strange request from the industry and U.S. Solicitor General’s Office, the Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether it should be illegal to create software or technology that is capable of a disregard for copyright enforcement, whether it’s designed for such devlish evil acts or not.

This case has only reached the Supreme Court because of the rather comforting previous success of those fighting against the industry desires. Two years ago they won the lower-court ruling, and then as we reported last August they repeated the victory in the Appeals Court in LA. And it’s looking as though the reports from the Supreme Court so far are reasonably promising.

The judges aren’t supposed to be very enamoured with the industry proposal. Some are raising aged eyebrows of concern about the far-reaching effects such a decision could have, suggesting its sweeping incrimination of technology developers for piracy liability could be perhaps a bit unfair. Cough. Indeed, as one more canny judge notes, such a ruling would make iPods and photocopiers illegal.

However, a loss in this case could have a far more serious effect. It would put an astonishing amount of power into the copyright favouring industries’ laps, and entirely erode the last vestiges of Fair Use we have left. Creative freedom is on trial at the moment. What are you doing about it?