A broad group of trade groups, recording artists, and state attorneys general have registered their support of the US entertainment industry lawsuit against peer-to-peer (P-to-P) software vendors.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said 20 supporting briefs have been filed in the MGM versus Grokster case, to be argued before the Supreme Court in March.

Copyright owners berate poachers

"These (P-to-P) enterprises have engaged in - for profit and on a massive and widespread basis - the greatest ongoing theft of intellectual property that the world has ever seen," said Theodore Olson, former solicitor general for the US government who represents Defenders of Property Rights, a copyright-focused legal foundation. "These enterprises were launched with the singular purpose of enabling and profiting from the violations of copyright laws, and taking the works of thousands and thousands of artists without compensation."

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Grokster case after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that Grokster, Morpheus distributor StreamCast Networks, and a site operated by StreamCast called Musiccity.com were not liable for copyright violations by their users.

Techno-crime or criminal intent?

The RIAA and MPAA announcement of their friend-of-the-court briefs comes a day after five technology-focused groups filed their own briefs asking the Supreme Court to reaffirm a 21-year-old ruling protecting most technology companies from being held liable for their customers' copyright infringement.

In its 1984 Sony Betamax ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that makers of technologies with significant noninfringing uses were not liable for their users' copyright violations.

Representatives of the RIAA and MPAA denied charges that they want to overturn the Betamax decision, saying they want the court to rule that technologies primarily intended to allow copyright violations be held liable.

Luddite protectionism threatens innovation

P2P United, a trade group representing both Grokster and Morpheus, argues that the entertainment industry would threaten technological innovation if it gets its way in court. If the court rules that the vendors are held liable for the "misuse of a new technology," technologies such as the Internet itself would not have been allowed to exist, said Adam Eisgrau, executive director of P2P United.

"If that was the case, most of the technological products in the twentieth century would not have seen the light of day," Eisgrau said. "We're confident that any argument that, if accepted, would chill technological innovation will be rejected by the Supreme Court."

Usual suspects

Among those signing onto briefs supporting the entertainment industry's side were 40 state attorneys general; senators Patrick Leahy (Democrat) and Orrin Hatch (Republican); three major sports leagues, including the National Football League; the Association of American Publishers; the Independent Film & Television Alliance; and six music publishing groups, including the Songwriters Guild of America.

Also signing onto briefs supporting the RIAA and MPAA were several recording artists, including country artists Brooks and Dunn, Reba McEntire, the Dixie Chicks, pop/rock artists the Eagles, the Barenaked Ladies, Bonnie Raitt, Avril Lavigne, Elvis Costello, and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.

Cries of pain

Unauthorized file-trading using P-to-P software is causing people in the music industry, including CD store clerks, staff songwriters, roadies, and producers, to lose their jobs, said Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America.

"I'm the victim of illegal downloading," Carnes said. "I've been robbed, my property has been stolen, and it's still being stolen every day. I'm here to tell you people are getting hurt."

Editor's note: Opinion within the music industry remians divided. Speaking at Europe's Midem 2005 this week, Beggars Group chairman Martin Mills expressed his personal opinion that the industry should embrace P2P, calling the destruction of Napster 1 a "huge mistake", according to Digital Music News.

“P2P won't go,” he said, encouraging the industry to develop new ways to transform file-sharing into a revenue stream. He added that companies are "too obsessed with price per unit economic models" to explore such possibilities.