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Artists break with industry on file sharing

A prominent group of musicians and artists, breaking with colleagues and the major entertainment studios, is urging the Supreme Court not to hold online file-sharing services responsible for the acts of users who illegally trade songs, movies and software, the Washington Post reported.

The group, which includes representatives of Steve Winwood, rapper Chuck D and the band Heart, said in court papers that it condemns the stealing of copyrighted works. But it argues that popular services such as Grokster, Kazaa and others also provide a legal and critical alternative for artists to distribute their material.

The arguments are in contrast to an aggressive push by the major recording and movie studios, and hundreds of musicians, actors and composers, to persuade the Supreme Court that file sharing damages the livelihoods of artists by robbing them of proper compensation for their work.

Specifically, the studios want the court to rule that Grokster is liable for the file sharing by many of its users because it is primarily used for piracy and because it does not take steps to prevent it. The court is scheduled to hear the case March 29.

But the artists opposing the industry’s position said shutting down the major file-sharing services, which are used by tens of millions of people worldwide, would instead rob them of a chance to gain exposure and income.

Attorneys for Grokster argued in its court filing that file-sharing services are used extensively for distributing works legally, either by permission of the artist or because copyrights have expired or were never sought.

As a result, the company argues, it meets the legal standard set by the Supreme Court in 1984, when it ruled that Sony’s Betamax VCR was not liable for copyright infringement because it had substantial legal uses.

The entertainment industry’s position also was opposed by other file-sharing firms, major telecommunications companies, electronics makers, and coalitions of computer scientists, inventors, consumer and digital-rights advocacy groups.

They argue that holding technology creators, or the companies that handle Internet traffic, liable for the acts of their users would make it too risky for innovators to develop products that have legal uses and which enhance the enjoyment of digital entertainment.

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