EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl was interviewed recently by K. Oanh Ha of the San Jose Mercury News. The conversation addresses the P2P downloading case known as Grokster and related issues. [Tip o' the hat to Doug Isenberg's Gigalaw.] Snippets:
Kurt Opsahl got hooked on cyberlaw in 1997 when he took a class on the subject at the University of California-Berkeley. Today, Opsahl is a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco non-profit whose motto is ``defending freedom in the digital world.''
Q With the Grokster case, the fear is that a win for the entertainment industry will have a chilling effect on technology innovation. But the fact is that the technology is being used to violate the law. That makes it hard to defend, doesn't it?
A It is vital for innovation to allow technologies to flourish and not be under the gun for the liability of the acts of their users.
The Sony Betamax doctrine (which held that Sony, as the maker of the Betamax VCR, was not liable if people used its product to violate copyrights if the product was also ``capable of substantial non-infringing uses'') brought us the VCR. At the time, the industry said the VCR would be the end of the movie industry. The head of the Motion Pictures Association was saying the VCR was to the movie industry what the Boston Strangler was to a woman alone. Of course, the VCR is a profit center for the industry. It was the best thing that could happen to them.
Q So the industry can make money even as people are ripping them off through illegal downloads?
A Online music and music distribution will happen. And there are ways that the industry can profit from that. They are already making business models around downloadable licensed music. ITunes, for example, has been very successful.
What we're defending is the technology. The right of an innovator to come out with new technologies that can be used in non-infringing ways.
Copyright isn't limited to music. You can attach a movie file, a picture to an e-mail message. The same issues arise. The solution is to uphold the Sony Betamax doctrine. You don't want to kill e-mail. You don't want to kill the VCR.