The music and movie businesses have long had a problem of separating the technology that's used for file-sharing from what they view as the criminal act of file-sharing itself. The recent Grokster decision has created a huge legal gray area where file-sharing networks can be held liable for copyright infringement if they take "affirmative steps" to encourage infringement, opening up what's likely to be a long, protracted and messy battle as copyright holders go after other technologies and concepts they don't like, such as fair use. Central to this whole affair has been the entertainment industry's refusal to accept that programs used for file-sharing could have significant, non-infringing uses -- the test established by the Betamax decision. Now, Om Malik reports on how BitTorrent is going "legit", even potentially seeking VC investment. But the most surprising aspect of all this is that the MPAA, RIAA and a couple movie studios are talking to BitTorrent, not about suing it, but how to use it -- yes, how to use it legitimately in a non-infringing way. These are the same groups that about two months ago were trying to figure out just how they could sue BitTorrent and its creator, Bram Cohen. Cohen says the Grokster decision separated piracy from technology, legitimizing programs with non-infringing uses. But as far as Hollywood's concerned, all it legitimized were their legal tactics, giving them the green light to go after people who they think encouraged piracy. So now, with those semantics in place, they can publicly recognize that technologies like BitTorrent have legitimate, non-infringing uses and act like it's not hypocritical. But, of course, that's because they think they've now got the right to determine what is or isn't a non-infringing use -- a decision that's decidedly not theirs to make.
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