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3/18/2005
04:52 PM
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High-Court Plea: Don't Stifle Innovation

The law has a tough time keeping pace with technology, and that could prove problematic for many Internet innovators and users if the Supreme Court sides with the movie studios and recording companies in a case it will hear later this month.

The law has a tough time keeping pace with technology, and that could prove problematic for many Internet innovators and users if the Supreme Court sides with the movie studios and recording companies in a case it will hear later this month.Lawyers representing recording and movie producers are asking the Supreme Court to find operators of file-sharing services responsible for copyright infringements committed by their services' users. The case, MGM v. Grokster, will be argued before the Supreme Court March 29. In briefs, the entertainment industry seeks modification to the 1984 Sony Betamax ruling in which the Supreme Court decreed that video recorders shouldn't be banned because they could be used for legitimate purposes, not just illegally copying movies.

The potential that the high court rules in favor of the entertainment industry is causing much anxiety among some technologists. "It could be a disaster," Tim O'Reilly, owner of computer-book publisher O'Reilly & Associates, told The New York Times in an article published this past week.

Services that have nothing to do about illicit duplication of copyrighted material could be harmed if the court agrees with recording and motion-picture companies. Among those services featured at the recent Emerging Technologies Conference, according to the Times:

* Flickr, a Canadian service lets Web loggers and surfers easily share and catalog millions of digital photographs.

* Features in Amazon.com's A9 search engine aimed at simplifying the sharing among Web users of searches expressly customized to mine a variety of media such as newspapers, yellow pages, and catalogs.

* An online service from software designer iFabricate that simplifies the sharing of instructions for complex do-it-yourself garage construction projects. Projects can be documented and shared with a mixture of images, text, ingredient lists, computer-animated design files and digital videos.

* Wikipedia, a volunteer-run online encyclopedia effort that now has generated 1.5 million entries in 200 languages.

One of the concerned technologists is Mitchell Kapor, founder of the Open Source Applications Foundation, a not-for-profit group that's developing an E-mail program and a related set of information-sharing software programs. Kapor told the Times: "This conference shows that it's no longer about sharing movies and music. The momentum of the technology has moved away from the lawsuit."

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