The ghost of Betamax continues to haunt Hollywood and music producers. America's entertainment industry has been fighting fiercely to rein in companies like Groskter and StreamCast Networks that provide software that computer users often use to download illegal music, films, and TV shows from the Internet. But on Aug. 19, the San Francisco-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed at least part of their argument, citing the landmark 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision that it's O.K. for consumers to tape movies and TV shows for their personal use.
The irony is that Hollywood, which fought the introduction of Sony's Betamax video-cassette recorder in the early '80s, is today a big beneficiary of that case. While its Betamax format eventually lost out to the more popular VHS technology, Betamax was the pioneer for both the VCR and more recently the DVD player. Together, the DVD and video-cassette businesses this year are expected to generate $17 billion in sales, according to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, reports Business Week.
According to BBC News, we should applaud the 9th US Circuit of Appeals in Los Angeles for making it clear that file-sharing is not illegal. This is just as well, since file-sharing, which is just copying data from computer to computer, underpins the entire operation of the internet, from e-mail to viewing web pages to downloading the 72Mb of Windows XP SP2.
But of course the argument was not about that sort of data copying. The court had been asked to rule in a case brought against Grokster and StreamCast Networks over the use of their peer-to-peer networks to make unlicensed copies of copyrighted music.
It is certainly true that they can be used in this way. I had a copy of Kazaa on my laptop until recently, and a quick search revealed thousands of unlicensed MP3s of songs by a wide variety of artists. But there is a well-established precedent in US law that just because something is capable of being used illegally, that does not mean its manufacturers can be sued or prosecuted.
The music and movie industries are said to have witnessed significant revenue loss due to the illegal file sharing on the internet through P2P networks. The US movie studios and music companies were seeking damages from the file-sharing software companies for possible copyright infringement, says New Ratings.
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