LOS ANGELES — A federal judge ruled Friday that the companies behind two popular file-sharing services are not liable for the illegal copying of music and movies by their users.
The 34-page ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson was a blow to recording companies and movie studios who had sought to stem the illegal copying and distribution of their copyright works.
Through the Internet, virtually any copyrighted song or movie can be freely, but illegally, downloaded using dozens of Internet file-sharing programs, called peer-to-peer networks.
Friday's decision, if it survives appeal, essentially absolves Grokster Ltd. and StreamCast Networks Inc. of liability. Grokster distributes file-sharing software by that name, and StreamCast distributes Morpheus. The ruling does not apply to a third and more popular service, Kazaa (search) from Sharman Networks Ltd.
In his ruling, Wilson cited a 1984 case in which the movie industry sued Sony (search) Corp., arguing Sony was liable for the use of its video cassette recorders to make illegal copies of copyright works. Courts in that case sided with Sony and ruled that the sale of copying equipment did not constitute copyright infringement.
Unlike Napster (search), Grokster and Morpheus only provide software and assistance using the software to users. Napster actually hosted users' files on its server.
"It's a vindication. We are not pirates," said Wayne Rosso, president of Grokster, based in Nevis, West Indies.
The entertainment companies, which had launched the lawsuit in October 2001, were disappointed by Friday's ruling.
"Businesses that intentionally facilitate massive piracy should not be able to evade responsibility for their actions," said Hilary Rosen, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America