I’m feeling very “glass is half full” about today’s Supreme Court decision in MGM v. Grokster, which essentially says a technology company can be guilty of contributory copyright infringement if it induces others to violate copyright (e.g. through advertising). Sure it leaves open lots of questions hanging, which no doubt will be clarified after much more blood on the field. On the whole I’m still optimistic for where this might lead us in the long run:
- Peer-to-peer sharing of copyrighted files will continue unabated, that was a given regardless of the decision. I think this is a good thing not because I’ve some anarchist itch than needs scratching, but because the content cartel have been abusing their government-granted limited monopoly for decades, and they’ve become damaging to society. Congress is a part of the problem, so there’s no remedy there. Monopolies don’t change willingly, and the only two forces I see moving the cartel to serve their customers instead of abuse them are files-sharing on the one hand and empowered artists eliminating the middleman on the other. My big hope is that somehow these two stakeholders figure out the right way to join forces.
- The decision makes it harder for companies like Grokster to profit from copyright violations with a wink and a nod. That makes it less likely that we trade one set of market-masters and gatekeepers for another, and it also makes it a little easier for the cartel to survive as they (hopefully) reform into good corporate citizens. The message I’d take from this decision if I were MGM would be “OK, we’ll still have our clock cleaned if we don’t offer our customers something better than free, distributed, somewhat undercover, all-volunteer-provided infrastructure, but at least we don’t have to compete with funded commercial versions as well.” Or at least they’ll have a reprieve until legal alternatives like voluntary collective licensing or Creative Commons start to take their market-share.
- It’ll make P2P technologies even more decentralized and distributed. We’d never have seen the P2P technology explosion if the RIAA had embraced the posting of MP3s on the Web back in the mid-90s. Like a weakened virus that trains the immune system to later fight off a full-strength disease, we’re building the technology and mindset that will one day help protect us against far worse threats than the Disney Secret Police. Which leads my to my last hope…
- Maybe this will encourage businesses and technologists working with P2P to raise public awareness of the P2P applications that don’t involve copyright violations, like load-balancing, wireless ad-hoc networking, store-and-forward networks for the third world, and censorship-resistant communication.