On to the next round

The trial of Kazaa, Grokster and Morpheus continues

A hearing on the future of Kazaa, Grokster and Morpheus ended yesterday in Los Angeles without a decision. Judge Wilson said he needed more time because of the complexity of the ies. Next, he wants to announce a kind of oral preliminary decision.

Judge Stephen Wilson was supposed to decide on Monday how to proceed in the case of the music and film industry against the three file-sharing operators. Both sides wanted the proceedings to be concluded before the actual trial is initiated. Record companies and Hollywood studios wanted to get a quick verdict that would oblige providers to install filters or keep their services silent.

The lawyers of the file-sharing providers, on the other hand, argued that their clients were not in a position to influence the actions of their users, and stressed the legal uses of P2P technology. They tried to persuade the judge to stop the proceedings by referring to the so-called Betamax decision. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that distribution of the Betamax VCR did not violate copyright because the device could be used for legal purposes.

Kazaa is not Napster

Napster had also tried to base its defense on the Betamax decision, but failed in court. Therefore, the plaintiffs tried on Monday to equate Kazaa, Grokster and Morpheus practically with Napster. Judge Wilson, however, made it clear that he was aware of the differences between the technologies. Overall, Wilson asked few questions, but appeared to be very informed about the context.

After the hearing, one observer said that it seemed to him that Wilson had already made up his mind, but had let himself be swayed by the arguments presented. He is said to have been particularly impressed by the plaintiffs’ evidence. Music and movie industry lawyers on Monday presented some emails suggesting that the operators of Kazaa, Morpheus and Grokster are aware of and tolerate copyright infringement by their users.

Morpheus gets support from the Gnutella community

Nevertheless, Wilson does not like to reveal for the time being how he intends to decide. He only announced to follow up with a verbal preliminary decision. With such a noncommittal statement of opinion Wilson obviously wants to provoke objections of the involved parties once again, in order to then be able to make his final decision watertight. It is not yet known when this rather unusual arrangement will take place. Presumably, however, Wilson will take at least another month to respond.

Wilson has to deal with a whole series of tricky details: The music and movie industry wants him to rule against Grokster, Kazaa and Morpheus, even though the three programs operate on two different networks. Kazaa and Grokster together form the hard to understand Fasttrack network, Morpheus is part of the open Gnutella network since he was kicked out of Fasttrack. In a separate part of the case, Wilson must also decide whether Kazaa operator Sharman Networks can be sued as an Australian company in a California court.

Morpheus, meanwhile, has received support from the Gnutella community. In a joint petition to the court, the developers of the Gnutella programs Limewire, Bearshare and GTK-Gnutella stated that the Gnutella network was not comparable to Napster. They also accused the entertainment industry of distorting the facts and practically asking the court to ban the Gnutella network.

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