Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or


Grokster is reasonable

I’ve actually had time to read the entire decision, and I find this totally reasonable.

This is the text of the decision, and I’m surprised that this was turned into such a landmark case to begin with. It’s meaninless – all it says is that if you promote a service meant to contribute to copyright infringement, you can’t hide behind the defense that your service also has other uses.

Discovery revealed that billions of files are shared across peer-to-peer networks each month. Respondents are aware that users employ their software primarily to download copyrighted files, although the decentralized networks do not reveal which files are copied, and when. Respondents have sometimes learned about the infringement directly when users have e-mailed questions regarding copyrighted works, and respondents have replied with guidance. Respondents are not merely passive recipients of information about infringement. The record is replete with evidence that when they began to distribute their free software, each of them clearly voiced the objective that recipients use the software to download copyrighted works and took active steps to encourage infringement.

This isn’t about freedom of technological expression, unless I’m missing something big here. These guys were running a service encouraging people to trade copyrighted content, giving them tech support on it, and then hiding behind the claim that other people were using the service for legitimate means.

We can argue about whether that should be legal or not, but as far as I can tell, there isn’t a strong case for the argument that it actually is legal. This isn’t about protecting the rights of technologists to develop new ideas – this is about actual copyright infringement. There are two different cases here:

1. You release a tool that enables people to infringe copyright and you have no control over that.
2. You release a tool that enables people to infringe copyright and you advertise it as such, promote it with that goal, and help people out when they can’t download the latest Britney album.

Sounds like #2 to me.

4 Responses to “Grokster is reasonable”

  1. Sparky Says:

    This is not going to be good news for, and, and, and, and, and….do I have to continue?

  2. adam Says:

    Well, setting aside the fact that most of those links are dead – I don’t see how that’s the case. This isn’t an indictment of filesharing in general, although if you’re paranoid you can see it that way. It’s not even a statement that technology can’t be a defense. It just says that if you’re going to help people explicitly commit crimes and advertise that as a service, you can’t hide behind non-infringing uses. This isn’t about fair use.

  3. Sparky Says:

    All those links are actually working sites. If you had comment preview, I could have checked the HTML — but you don’t. Link Link Link Link Link Link

    All these sites (and the other sites like them) are the mainstay for all those who either cannot figure out torrents, don’t want to bother with torrents (and torrent “karma”), etc. They are heavily, heavily used for copyrighted materials, and, as you can see, at least a few sit outside the U.S.

  4. adam Says:

    There are actually two issues here.

    1) The decision doesn’t say that people who make products that have infringing uses will necessarily be taken to task. All it says is that if you promote a service that encourages people to use it for infringing purposes that you’re not immune from criminal or civil charges by saying that your product has legitimate uses. You and I, to whatever extent, may think that those laws are wrong, or even stupid, and need to be changed. But I don’t have any expectation that the Supreme Court is going to say that, especially not for a case with such clear lines drawn. With that in mind, the decision makes perfect sense – it’s a clarification of the existing law. The fact is – Grokster should lose. They did advertise their service by enticing people to break the law. They did provide tech support with clear knowledge of customers infringing copyright.

    2) There’s a valid argument to saying that this will stifle creativity and drive innovation out of the US, and won’t actually stop anything. I think that’s largely true of every law that regulates technology. It’s not always a bad thing. In this case, I think it’s just more evidence that our copyright (and other IP) system is badly broken.

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