Grokster, Brand X Lose… Sort Of
from the there-goes-that-plan dept
As expected, the Supreme Court decided both Grokster and Brand X today — and, as expected, the results aren’t as clear as some people seem to be making them out to be. In the case of Grokster, the ruling was (surprisingly) unanimous that file sharing networks could be held liable for copyright infringement if they take “affirmative steps” to encourage infringement. However, they never say if Grokster and the others in the case did take those affirmative steps, so the case goes back to the lower court to debate that issue. Generally speaking, this sounds like a bad decision, though, not as bad as it could be. It’s a bit surprising, given what some of the justices said during the case. However, it looks like they tried to narrowly define how a company could be liable. Unfortunately, by making a company liable for a crime that its technology is used to commit, they’re opening up a can of worms that is likely to become quite messy. It certainly looks like Apple, for example, could be guilty for their “Rip, Mix, Burn” ad campaign a few years ago. As for Brand X, the court (six to three) voted that the FCC was right in saying that cable lines don’t have to be opened up to competitors, basically agreeing that cable providers are offering an “information” service on privately built lines, rather than telco services on lines built by a taxpayer money through the government monopoly AT&T (Brand X supporters say that cable lines are built with local gov’t approval, creating a local monopoly anyway). This one is a lot harder to call as to whether it’s a good or bad decision, as the arguments for both sides make some sense (and, both are misleading in some ways). In this case, you can look more at who it’s good or bad for — and despite the way they’re reacting, it really might not be good for the cable companies. That’s because this will drive competitors to search out alternatives to using cable lines as a means of offering broadband services to end users. Given the cable companies’ inability to understand what users seem to want, this opens the door wide for them to shoot themselves in the foot, while other providers move on to things like wireless technology. There are still a lot of challenges in using wireless broadband today — and certainly some of the same incumbents who create many of the problems in the industry today will also try to stifle wireless competition. However, by closing off cable as an easy way out for independent providers, it’s going to just make them that much more interested in wireless options and figuring out ways to route around existing cable and telco providers.