Just An Online Minute... Why Grokster Is Like Silly Putty - And That's Not A Stretch
Like Grokster, a file-sharing service that enables users to download copyrighted movies, the copy machine - which came about after law student Chester Carlson discovered "Xerography" in 1937 - also is capable of being used to violate copyright law.
Copy machines are but one example of technology that poses a potential threat to intellectual property. Others include video cassette recorders, sold to consumers since the 1970s, CD burners, even Silly Putty - long marketed "for its ability to transfer prints from newspapers or cartoons," says the EFF.
And, just as television survived the VCR, and comic strips survived Silly Putty, the movie industry won't be felled by peer-to-peer technology.
Yet, the movie studios have waged battle after battle against Grokster and other file-sharing companies. The war will culminate tomorrow in an oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The last time the Supreme Court confronted this issue, in a 1984 case dealing with VCRs, the judges sided with the tech companies. Yet the movie industry seems convinced that, somehow, because the Internet is involved this go-round, the landscape has changed.
Perhaps the view stems from the Internet's reputation as the "wild west" - a cyberworld of illicit activity, or, at least, a world where consumers have more access to protected material than in the past.
But, regardless of the medium, the underlying principle - that manufacturing and selling a technology that enables copyright violations doesn't in itself create liability - shouldn't change. The Supreme Court called it right 20 years ago, when the judges ruled in favor of VCR makers, and there's no reason for the court to back away from that holding now.