Industry Groups Object to Napster Ruling

The US industry groups, which also include The Digital Future Coalition (DFC) and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), stopped short of taking a position about whether or not Napster's service violated the law. Instead, they argued that the verdict sets an alarming precedent that could harm the rights of individuals to share information and stunt the development of Internet technologies.

"Our primary concern is something bigger than Napster; it's about the First Amendment in the digital age, and the ability of content providers to shut down new technologies," said Jeff Joseph, vice president of communications with the CEA.

In at least four friend-of-the-court briefs filed Friday, the groups argue that Chief US District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel erred in the way that she interpreted and applied US laws governing the use of copyrighted material. The lawsuit was filed against Napster by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

In particular, the groups argued the court ignored advice from the US Supreme Court that judges should be reluctant to expand copyright protections without explicit legislative guidance in cases where major technological innovations are involved, the CEA said in its brief.

The CEA is a trade group representing the U.S. consumer electronics industry and has about 600 members including Sony Electronics, Intel, Compaq and Cisco.

The CEA's brief was filed in conjunction with the DFC and the CCIA. Separate briefs were filed by NetCoalition, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), the Commercial Internet Exchange, and others.

In her July 26 verdict, Judge Patel, of the Northern District of California, sided with the recording industry and ruled that Napster's service contributed to the violation of copyrighted material by its members. She issued an injunction requiring Napster to remove all copyrighted material from its site -- something Napster said it would not be able to do.

Napster appealed the ruling to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which granted the company a reprieve by staying the injunction pending the outcome of a full appeal. Friday's briefs were filed with that appeals court.

The industry groups maintain that they are not acting in support of Napster, but to ensure that the correct standards of law are applied in this and any future digital copyright cases.

"It might not change the result in the case -- it could be that the proper standards are applied and Napster still loses," said Jonathan Band, an attorney with the law firm Morrison and Foertser who represents NetCoalition. "We're totally neutral on the issue of how this applies to Napster."

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James Niccolai

PC World

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