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The Betamax Case
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
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
Amazon's "1-Click" Patent
**Warning the patent this case is based on has been reexamined and many claims were invalid for more information read our recent blog post**
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
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.
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
Blizzard v. BnetD
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.
ALA v. FCC
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.