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The Betamax Case

Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, 464 U.S. 417 (1984)

Sony v. Universal Studios, or the Betamax case, is a landmark copyright case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1984 that has sheltered a wide array of technology innovators from lawsuits at the hands of the entertainment industries. In fact, it is thanks to the Betamax ruling that the makers of not just VCRs, but also every other technology capable of being used for infringement (e.g., photocopiers, personal computers, Cisco routers, CD burners, and Apple's iPod) can continue to sell their wares without fear of lawsuits from copyright owners. In the Betamax case, the Supreme Court ruled that a company was not liable for creating a technology that some customers may use for copyright infringing purposes, so long as the technology is capable of substantial non-infringing uses. In other words, where a technology has many uses, the public cannot be denied the lawful uses just because some (or many or most) may use the product to infringe copyrights.


MGM v. Grokster


Twenty-eight of the world's largest entertainment companies brought the lawsuit against the makers of the Morpheus, Grokster, and KaZaA software products, aiming to set a precedent to use against other technology companies (P2P and otherwise). As we noted in our arguments before the Ninth Circuit, the case raises a question of critical importance at the border between copyright and innovation: When should the distributor of a multi-purpose tool be held liable for the infringements that may be committed by end-users of the tool?


The Microsoft Antitrust Case

State of New York, et al. v. Microsoft Corporation, Civil Action No. 98-1233 (2002)

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the proposed settlement served the public's interest as required under the Tunney Act, which sets standards of review for antitrust settlements. This reversed a previous ruling by Judge Jackson ordering the break up of Microsoft into two companies.

1 click

Amazon's "1-Click" Patent

Amazon.com, Inc. v. Barnesandnoble.com, Inc., and Barnesandnoble.com, LLC, No. C99-1695P (1999)

**Warning the patent this case is based on has been reexamined and many claims were invalid for more information read our recent blog post**

On October 21, 1999, Amazon.com filed suit against Barnesandnoble.com in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, alledging that the defendant's "Express Lane" ordering function infringed upon Amazon.com's "1-Click" patent. Siding with Amazon.com, the Court issued a preliminary injuction on December 1, 1999. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned the preliminary injunction against Barnesandnoble.com on February 14, 2001, and raised questions about the validity of of Amazon.com's patent.


Apple v. Does

Apple Computer, Inc. v. Doe I, an unknown individual, and Does 2-25, inclusive. Case Number 104CV032178 (2005)

In December 2004, Apple filed a lawsuit in Santa Clara county against unnamed individuals who allegedly leaked information about new Apple products to several online news sites, including AppleInsider and PowerPage. The articles at issue concerned a FireWire audio interface for GarageBand, codenamed "Asteroid" or "Q7." In addition, Apple filed a separate trade secret suit against Think Secret on January 4, 2004. Apple is seeking information from these news sites regarding the identities of the sites' sources, and has subpoenaed Nfox.com, the email service provider for PowerPage, for email messages that may identify the confidential source.


Napster Injuction

A&M RECORDS, INC., et al., v. NAPSTER, INC. No. C 99-05183 (2001)

Like the district court before it, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found little sympathy for Internet music swapping service Napster, finding it liable for both contributory and vicarious copyright infringement. The decision chipped away at the famous holding in the "Betamax" case where the Supreme Court held that the movie studios could not outlaw a technology (VCRs) that was capable of substantial non-infringing uses. The appellate court then ordered Napster to police and control its systems to prevent future infringement and sent the case back to the district court for specific rulings about how Napster must rewrite its software to meet the court's requirements. This ruling marks a stark departure from the Supreme Court's standard for third party liability in Betamax where knowledge that VCRs would be used for some infringement was irrelevant. In Betamax, the Supreme Court held that allowing copyright holders to ban devices capable of substantial non-infringing uses would go beyond the power of copyright monopoly, regardless of whether the creators knew their devices would be used to infringe copyrights.


Blizzard v. BnetD

Davidson & Associates, Inc., D.B.A. Blizzard Entertainment, and Vivendi Universal Games, Inc. v. Internet Gateway, Inc., and Tim Ung, an individual. Case Number 4102CV00498CAS (2005)

BnetD is an open source program that lets gamers play popular Blizzard titles like Warcraft with other gamers on servers that don't belong to Blizzard's Battle.net service. Blizzard argued that the programmers who wrote BnetD violated the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions and that the programmers also violated several parts of Blizzard's EULA, including a section on reverse engineering. As it stands, the lower court's decision makes it unlawful in most cases to reverse engineer any commercial software program, thus making it impossible to create new programs that interoperate with older ones. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, co-counsel for the defendants, has appealed the decision.



American Library Association, et al., v. Federal Communications Commission and United States of America. No. 04-1037 (2005)

The court ruled that the FCC lacked authority to regulate what happens inside your TV or computer once it has received a broadcast signal. The broadcast flag rule would have required all signal demodulators to "recognize and give effect to" a broadcast flag, forcing them not to record or output an unencrypted high-def digital signal if the flag were set. This technology mandate, set to take effect July 1, would have stopped the manufacture of open hardware that has enabled us to our own digital television recorders.

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