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Media Advisory

UC Berkeley experts available regarding Supreme Court Internet file sharing decision

27 June 2005

ATTENTION: Reporters covering MGM v. Grokster

Contact: Janet Gilmore, Media Relations
(510) 642-5685 jangilmore@berkeley.edu

Three experts from the University of California, Berkeley's School of Law (Boalt Hall) are responding today (Monday, June 27) to the U.S. Supreme Court's just-released decision in MGM v. Grokster, an Internet file sharing battle between the entertainment industry and the technology industry. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.

Two of the experts are from the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, which in March authored a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of 60 intellectual property and technology law professors and the U.S. Public Policy Committee of the United States Association for Computing Machinery.

Professor Pamela Samuelson says the court was "faced with a very tough decision because of the high volume of arguably infringing use of Grokster's software, Grokster's knowing facilitation of file sharing of copyrighted materials, and the drop in sales of recorded music."

"Yet by preserving a safe harbor for technologies with substantial lawful uses, it adopted a far more moderate rule than MGM and others had recommended. An order for further proceedings on theory that Grokster actively induced copyright infringement did not come as a big surprise."

Contact: Pam Samuelson, (650) 433-5370 or (510) 642-6775. She holds a joint appointment at UC Berkeley's School of Information Management and Systems and at Boalt Hall.

Deirdre K. Mulligan, director of the Samuelson Clinic, agrees. "Preserving the safe harbor for substantial lawful uses keeps technologists in control of technology development, maintains the balance between innovation and protection of copyrights, and keeps the courts from micromanaging technology design," she says. "The court made clear today, however, that those who actively induce infringement can't avoid liability simply because a technology has substantial non-infringing uses. This has long been the case in patent law, and now it is true for copyright as well."

Contact: Deirdre Mulligan, (415) 378-0764. Mulligan also is an acting clinical professor of law at Boalt Hall.

Jack Lerner, a fellow at the Samuelson clinic, says MGM "asked the court to impose a rule that would have dramatically shifted the balance of power between the entertainment industry and the technology industry.

"Instead, the court clarified and preserved the well-established Sony safe harbor, holding that makers of technology will only be liable for how their technology is used when they have shown an intent to induce infringement by clear actions." Lerner was referring to the Supreme Court's seminal 1984 decision in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal Studios.

Contact: Jack Lerner, (913) 486-7515 or (after Tuesday, June 28) at (510) 642-7515.

In its decision today, the court sent the case back to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California with instructions to reconsider whether Grokster and Streamcast distributed their software "with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement."

The MGM v. Grokster litigation began in October 2001, when a consortium of movie studios and recording labels filed a complaint against companies producing file-sharing software, including Grokster, Ltd. and Streamcast Networks, Inc. The case was before the Supreme Court on a limited question of law relating to the extent of Grokster and Streamcast's liability for copyright infringement committed by others using the companies' software.

The friend-of-the-court brief filed in March by the campus's Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic was prepared by professors Samuelson and Mulligan, fellow Lerner, and Samuelson clinic student interns Brian W. Carver, Marci Meingast, Aaron Perzanowski, and Bethelwel Wilson.

The Samuelson clinic is the nation's first clinic to provide law students with the opportunity to represent the public interest in cases and matters on the cutting edge of high technology law. Students participating in the clinic play an integral role in defining how civil liberties and other public values will be protected in an increasingly high-tech world.