Pew Internet Commentary: Supreme Court Hears Arguments in File-Sharing Case

Publication: Pew Internet & American Life Project Web Site

Author: Mary Madden


03/29/2005 - Although long lines prevented me from entering the courtroom today to witness the arguments firsthand, the scene outside the hearing was also a fascinating microcosm of the parties affected by this debate. As the morning crowds convened on the steps, dueling camps of passionate protesters marched in circles on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, ranks of lawyers, industry representatives, high school students, and other members of the interested public discussed the case while waiting in line. Curious passersby stopped to learn more about the central question presented in MGM v. Grokster--whether the distributors of peer-to-peer file-sharing software should be held liable for the copyright infringement committed by end users of the software.The pro-Grokster demonstrators bore signs that read, “Keep your hands off my iPod” and “Save Betamax,” while a group of anti-Grokster musicians yielded the slogans, “Thou shalt not steal” and “Download legally.” Both groups were roughly equal in size—that is, until the pro-P2P demonstrators attracted a critical mass of high school students who defected from their field trip to join them. Ironically, echoing some of the social mechanics at work in the larger evolution of the file-sharing phenomena, a few rebellious young boys were the first to pave the way, but they were soon followed by successive clumps of students who eagerly took up the signs, joined the chants, and drew the attention of reporters covering the event. This teenage migration was both a testament to the prevailing attitudes about music in this generation and a reminder of the power of peer influence that the entertainment industries are up against.

While the hearing today specifically focused on the infringement that happens on peer-to-peer networks, findings from the Pew Internet Project’s latest data memo on file-sharing suggest that adult music and video downloaders also get files from a wide array of sources beyond peer-to-peer networks and paid services. In addition, a majority of them (54%) think there is little or nothing the government can do to reduce illegal music file-sharing that happens on the Internet.

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