June 24, 2005

Anticipating the Supreme Court Grokster ruling

The Supreme Court will issue a decision in the MGM v. Grokster case by the end of this month that will have profound implications for the way copyright law is interpreted in the digital age.

The central question in the case is whether distributors of peer-to-peer file-sharing technology can be held liable for any illegal exchange of copyrighted files that is facilitated with their software. Previously, the peer-to-peer companies won the case in district court and the ruling was later upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project released three reports in the last year that will be of interest to those following the MGM v. Grokster case:

Music and Video Downloading Moves beyond P2P

  • A survey of 1,421 adult internet users conducted between January 13 and February 9, 2005 reveals doubt in the online world that government enforcement against unlawful file-sharing will work. Some 48% believe that there’s little or nothing the government can do to reduce illegal file-sharing while 39% think government efforts could stop the infringing activity.
  • Broadband internet users are even more skeptical about government-backed anti-piracy efforts. Some 57% of broadband users believe there is not much the government can do to reduce illegal file-sharing, compared to 32% who believe that enforcement would help control piracy.
  • The exchange of music and movie files isn’t limited to file-sharing networks; 19% of music and video downloaders, or about 7 million adults, say they have downloaded files from someone else’s iPod or MP3 player. About 28%, or roughly 10 million people, say they get files via email and instant messages.

Artists, Musicians and the Internet

  • A nationally representative survey of 809 self-identified artists finds that they are enthusiastic internet users and see both the positive and negative aspects of file sharing.
  • While 47% of all artists agree with the statement that “file-sharing services are bad for artists because they allow people to copy or use an artist’s work without getting permission or compensating the artist, 43% agree that, “file-sharing services aren’t really bad for artists, since they help to promote and distribute an artist’s work to a broad audience.”

The Future of the Internet

  • A wide-ranging survey of technology leaders, scholars, industry officials, and analysts finds that 50% of those who responded to the questionnaire agree that anonymous, free file-sharing on peer-to-peer networks will still be easy to perform a decade from now.
  • Another 23% of the group disagrees with this scenario, while 10% challenged it and 17% did not offer a response.
  • Yet, while the survey data suggest that there is solid agreement among experts about the persistence of P2P, the detailed responses we received were sharply divided and expressed uncertainty about the future of shared digital products.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit initiative of the Pew Research Center and is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to examine the social impact of the internet. It does not advocate policy outcomes.