The war of words between those in favor and against Internet file sharing heated up after a federal appeals panel ruled yesterday that, under current law, companies that provide file-sharing platforms aren't liable for the illegal activities of their users.
The decision, by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, also said that Congress could enact laws that would find file-sharing, or "peer-to-peer," companies liable for copyright infringement in such cases, but added that it thought it would be "unwise" to do so.
That puts the issue squarely in front of legislators - and the court of public opinion.
Richard Chernela, a VP at Euro RSCG Magnet, called the decision a "seminal news event." Euro RSCG Magnet is the AOR for Sharman Networks, the owner of file-sharing software Kazaa, which was not involved in the case.
Adam Eisgrau, executive director of P2P United, a peer-to-peer lobbying group, said the ruling helped highlight communication points the organization has been talking about the entire year. P2P United argues that its members' software is intended for uses other than illegally sharing copyrighted material.
"In a way, the court's ruling doesn't change the message that P2P United [has] used since forming, nor does it change the legal landscape," Eisgraus said. "Our message from the beginning has been calling for a constructive effort to produce a solution for the 21st century marketplace [because] p-to-p technologies are here to stay."
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), among the most-vocal critics of illegal file sharing, released a statement saying, "Today's decision should not be viewed as a green light for companies or individuals seeking to build businesses that prey on copyright holders' intellectual property."
Matt Grossman, director of digital strategy and corporate communications at the MPAA, said the group wouldn't comment beyond the statement.
The Recording Industry Association of American, another group opposed to file sharing, could not be reached for comment.
Chernela of Euro RSCG Magnet said that Kazaa's consistent message has been that the user is ultimately responsible for his or her actions.
"We're doing our best to bring to users' attention the ways to properly use Kazaa via the website, but primarily through media relations," Chernela said.
Chernela now expects the battle will continue via legislation.
"Going forward, the challenge is quite different," he said. "We know the next battle will be fought on the Hill."
He said the agency is already planning for that stage.
Eisgraus of P2P United said the public and members of Congress should expect to hear from a number of trade associations and companies arguing against any proposed legislation that would outlaw file sharing.
"We'll be taking every objection raised about p-to-p technology, no matter how frivolous, and addressing it before policymakers," he said.