Supreme Court clarifies Sony decision, fair use preserved

Bernadette Murphy,

Washington Communications Director
(202) 628-8410
For Immediate Release:

June 27, 2005

Supreme Court clarifies
Sony decision, fair use preserved

(WASHINGTON) The American Library Association (ALA) today applauded the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in
MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, LTD, hailing the ruling as a victory for libraries and consumers. The court remanded
Grokster back to the district court for trial and in so doing re-affirmed the Sony Betamax principle. In the
Sony case (1984), the Court held that the makers of the VCR should not be held liable for copyright infringement simply because the device could be used for infringing purposes. By affirming the decision made in
Sony, the Supreme Court upheld the principle of fair use in the digital age.

Focusing its ruling on the inducement principle of patent law rather than on
Sony, the Court clarified that peer-to-peer file sharing companies could be held responsible for copyright infringement only when they actively encourage infringement.

The ALA joined the Internet Archive, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Project Gutenberg in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in this case. The brief urged the court to consider the usefulness of peer-to-peer file sharing activities in the education and library arenas. In his concurrance Justice Breyer agreed with the library community that there are substantial non-infringing uses of peer-to-peer technologies. The Court articulated a standard for active inducement that emphasizes overt acts of purposeful culpable conduct "independent of design and distribution of the product." Liability can only be determined when companies take clear, active steps to foster infringement.

ALA President Carol Brey-Casiano said, "today's Supreme Court decision marks a victory for fair use and the rights of libraries and the public in a digital age." She continued, "the Court has protected the ability of consumer electronics manufacturers to develop new products and services without fear that they will be held liable for unintended infringement."