12 Jul 2005
(updated 12 Jul 2005 at 18:42 UTC) »
Yesterday, I went to the MGM v. Grokster post-Supreme Court decision panel event at the Stanford Law School, along with some other seth-trippers.
They throw a really good party - the whole thing was catered, with free food, wine and hors'doeuvres. The crowd was mostly lawyers, probably mostly Stanford Law School alumni, but there also seemed to be a few Silicon Valley venture capital types, and a small number of hackers.
The forum was moderated by Stanford Law Professor Paul Goldstein, who is one of the top copyright law experts in the world. Mark A. Lemley, who represented Grokster at the Supreme court (and is also a Stanford prof), spoke about how the decision will affect innovation. Ian Ballon argued the "rights holders" (eg. Entertainment Industry) case.
I posted some photos I took of the event. I should have taken some photos of the food!
Generally, after hearing what some of the top lawyers in the country have to say about this, it just reinforced my thoughts on the whole issue. The next-generation Internet is going to be peer-to-peer based, no matter what, but somehow the development is going to have to route around all those lawyers that are really, really interested and want to be involved.
And it's pretty clear that the entertainment industry is gunning for Bram Cohen.
One point that was brought up was that they'd rather go after the developers of the software, and not the end-users. Since this decision, the law seems like it will now be applied against people that have bad "intent" -- even if they haven't said anything publicly to encourage copyright violation. The court basically said that the Betamax defense still works, but not if you are a bad guy (as decided by the courts). They know a bad guy when they see one.
So the course of action for the entertainment industry is pretty clear. They just have to mount a public smear campaign to vilify Bram Cohen for a few years, and then drag him into a court. Even though BitTorrent is really useful for legitimate purposes, if they can paint him as a bad guy, he's in deep trouble.
Ian Ballon mentioned that Bram Cohen's past postings on public mailing lists early on in BitTorrent's development basically incriminate him, so you can see that the process is already starting...
Basically, you've got all the top copyright lawyers in the land having wet dreams about litigating the BitTorrent case, so it's going to happen. I'd bet money on it.
It's all a bit Orwellian, really. If you think about it, BitTorrent doesn't really accomplish much beyond being a better version of FTP. But since Bram Cohen might not have been thinking lily-white thoughts when he developed it, he's guilty of a "thoughtcrime", so he's in deep deep trouble now. At least that's my view of it.
I do hope that Stanford will put the video for the panel session online.
Update: Nice summary of the event