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MGM v. Grokster

EFF defended StreamCast Networks, the company behind the Morpheus peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing software, in an important case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States on June 23, 2005. Though the Court set aside the Ninth Circuit's ruling in favor of Streamcast, it also declined giving Hollywood what it truly wanted—a veto over technological innovation.

Twenty-eight of the world's largest entertainment companies brought the lawsuit against the makers of the Morpheus, Grokster, and KaZaA software products, aiming to set a precedent to use against other technology companies (P2P and otherwise). As we noted in our arguments before the Court, the case raises a fundamental question at the border between copyright and innovation: When should the distributor of a multi-purpose tool be held liable for the infringements that may be committed by end-users of the tool?

The Supreme Court's landmark decision in Sony Corporation of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. (a.k.a. the "Sony Betamax ruling") found that a distributor cannot be held liable for users' infringement so long as the tool is capable of substantial noninfringing uses. This standard has served innovators, copyright industries, and the public for more than 20 years. Relying on this precedent, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the distributors of Grokster and Morpheus P2P file-sharing software cannot be held liable for users' copyright violations.

The Supreme Court set aside the Ninth Circuit ruling, but it refused to overturn the Betamax doctrine or to force technology companies to redesign multipurpose technologies. Hollywood's main objective thus went unfulfilled.

But rather than clarify the rules for technology innovators, the Supreme Court instead punted on the hard questions by crafting a new doctrine of copyright infringement liability called "inducement." In the wake of the ruling, innovators now have three uncertain copyright doctrines to worry about: inducement, contributory and vicarious (for more on these doctrines, see EFF's white paper, "What P2P Developers Need to Know About Copyright"). This uncertainty will chill innovators, deter investors, and act as a brake on economic growth.

For more details on the Grokster case and what it means for the future of innovation, see Remedying Grokster by Fred von Lohmann, EFF's senior intellectual property attorney.

Post-Supreme Court Proceedings

Testimony Before Senate Commerce Committee

Supreme Court Decision

Supreme Court Oral Argument Transcript

Supreme Court Documents

Reply Briefs of Petitioners

March 18, 2005

Briefs of Respondents (StreamCast, Grokster)

March 1, 2005

Amicus Briefs Supporting Respondents

March 1, 2005

Briefs of Petitioners (entertainment companies)

January 24, 2005

Amicus Briefs Supporting Petitioners

January 24, 2005

Amicus Briefs Neutral as to Result

January 24, 2005

Petition for Certiorari

Ninth Circuit Appeal Documents

Oral Argument


Amicus Briefs supporting Plaintiffs

Amicus Briefs supporting Defendants

District Court Documents

Cross Motions for Summary Judgment


Amicus Briefs

Defendants Initial Motion for Summary Judgment


Documents relating to Sharman Networks (Kazaa)

Sharman Counter-Claims (Antitrust and Copyright Misuse)


Complaints and Answers

Media Releases