Copyright Office Pinpoints P2P Profiteers

Jeff Berg
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Copyright Office released recommendations Friday calling for companies whose products are used primarily for the distribution of copyrighted works to be held liable as copyright infringers.

In a recommendation given to the Senate Judiciary committee, copyright officials said that federal law should target companies that profit from or attract users primarily engaged in digital copyright infringement or otherwise help cause the activity.

Under the new bill, those involved in the creation or distribution of any product or service that relies on copyright infringement to make money or draw users would be held just as liable as those committing the actual infringement.

In a note accompanying the proposal, copyright officials wrote that the recommendation reflected not only the best way to stop current peer-to-peer services used for the digital transmission of copyrighted material, but also allows for a broad interpretation that can be applied to future technologies.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the recommendation sets a precedent by opposing Supreme Court decisions and appellate case law created as recently as August.

In a written statement released Friday, the EFF said that the Copyright Office’s decision goes against the Supreme Court’s ruling in Sony Corporation of America vs. Universal City Studios, Inc., known as the “Betamax doctrine,” which held that companies can not be held liable for creating products used for copyright infringement as long as the products also have a legitimate use.

“The Copyright Office proposal undermines the Betamax doctrine for a wide array of communications technologies, while doing nothing to slow P2P companies based offshore,” said Fred Von Lohmann, senior intellectual property attorney at EFF. “So American innovators pay the price, while P2P file-sharing continues unhindered.”

The recommendation was issued less than a month after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal issued a decision in MGM vs. Grokster that reaffirmed the Betamax doctrine.

According to the notes accompanying the recommendation, the Copyright Office discussed the issue with many organizations before creating its proposal, including the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Consumer Electronics Association, IBM, and the Motion Picture Association of America.