Supreme Court adopts IEEE-USA's balanced position in electronic file-sharing case


The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision Monday in the MGM vs. Grokster electronic file-sharing case, adopted the active inducement standard and technology protection IEEE-USA proposed in its January amicus curiae brief (

The Court ruled that Internet file-sharing services cannot be held liable for publishing a technology having non-infringing uses unless the publisher has actively induced its customers to use software for improper purposes.

Andrew Greenberg, chair of the IEEE-USA Intellectual Property Committee, said the Court adopted the thrust of IEEE-USA's brief.

"The Supreme Court recognized that a balance must be struck between the interests of artists in their work and the interests of the public to have access to dynamic and innovative technologies for obtaining and enjoying those works," Greenberg said. "An active inducement test captures the idea that liability for technologists should not be based on the conduct of others, but on what the technologists intentionally did to lead users to use the technology for ill."

In delivering the opinion of the Court (, Justice David Souter wrote that, " one that distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression of other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties. We are, of course, mindful of the need to keep from trenching on regular commerce or discouraging the development of technologies with lawful and unlawful potential. The inducement rule premises liability on purposeful, culpable expressions and conduct, and thus does nothing to compromise legitimate commerce or discourage innovation having a lawful promise."

"By punishing the active inducement of illegal behavior, the court protects intellectual property and preserves the incentive to innovate," IEEE-USA President-Elect Ralph Wyndrum said.

The opinion vacates the judgment of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled last August in favor of Grokster and StreamCast, and remands the case "for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

IEEE-USA was the first organization to propose an active inducement standard. Three other friend-of-the-court briefs supported this idea. For more information on IEEE-USA's contributions to inducement legislation and its participation in this case, go to

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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