American Needle is out

American Needle v. NFL is out ….

a good day for basic human liberties

yaay habeas corpus.

Kennedy is the difference between a conservative — someone whose values I frequently dislike and disagree with, but who is in many ways a respectful person — and a proto-fascist.

For the right-wingers who like to throw the term “fascism” around, the core concept of fascism is that the State takes precedence over the Individual. Habeas corpus — the right to appeal imprisonment by the State (to another arm of the State, usually) — is the fundamental human right that distinguishes fascism from non-fascism. Other human liberties — freedom of expression, freedom of belief, freedom of movement — are likely more germane to most of the people most of the time. But habeas corpus is the counter to the most basic power representatives of the State assert: the power to imprison individuals. It’s pretty limited as far as rights go — it boils down to a right to argue with the reasons for imprisonment. But without this fundamental check on the State’s power, every other human liberty is a hollow promise.

Roberts’ dissent — effectively, “what are they complaining about? we treat them so well!” — is the same response that can be heard in any institution that has robbed people of their liberty, from dictators to slaveholders to prison keepers to that horrid Austrian guy who said, “I could have killed my daughter” (instead of imprisoning and raping her for decades).

So yaay habeas corpus. Yesterday’s decision gives me some hope that we may yet arrest our slide into unmitigated fascism.

… a few more thoughts on reading Boumediene v. Bush:

Souter’s concurrence (joined by Ginsburg & Breyer): Souter takes on the dissent’s cries of judicial activism, which essentially argued that the case wasn’t sufficiently politically ripe — that the Supreme Court should have sat on its hands and not rushed to judgment to cut out the proper executive (read: military) procedures. I liked it a lot so I quote in full:

A second fact insufficiently appreciated by the dissents is the length of the disputed imprisonments, some of the prisoners represented here today having been locked up for six years []. Hence the hollow ring when the dissenters suggest that the Court is somehow precipitating the judiciary into reviewing claims that the military (subject to appeal to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit) could handle within some reasonable period of time. See, e.g., post, at 3 (opinion of ROBERTS, C. J.) (“[T]he Court should have declined to intervene until the D. C. Circuit had assessed the nature and validity of the congressionally mandated proceedings in a given detainee’s case”); post, at 6 (“[I]t is not necessary to consider the availability of the writ until the statutory remedies have been shown to be inadequate”); post, at 8 (“[The Court] rushes to decide the fundamental question of the reach of habeas corpus when the functioning of the DTA may make that decision entirely unnecessary”). These suggestions of judicial haste are all the more out of place given the Court’s realistic acknowledgment that in periods of exigency the tempo of any habeas review must reflect the immediate peril facing the country.
It is in fact the very lapse of four years from the time Rasul put everyone on notice that habeas process was available to Guantanamo prisoners, and the lapse of six years since some of these prisoners were captured and incarcerated, that stand at odds with the repeated suggestions of the dissenters that these cases should be seen as a judicial victory in a contest for power between the Court and the political branches. [] The several answers to the charge of triumphalism might start with a basic fact of Anglo-American constitutional history: that the power, first of the Crown and now of the Executive Branch of the United States, is necessarily limited by habeas corpus jurisdiction to enquire into the legality of executive detention. And one could explain that in this Court’s exercise of responsibility to preserve habeas corpus something much more significant is involved than pulling and hauling between the judicial and political branches. Instead, though, it is enough to repeat that some of these petitioners have spent six years behind bars. After six years of sustained executive detentions in Guantanamo, subject to habeas jurisdiction but without any actual habeas scrutiny, today’s decision is no judicial victory, but an act of perseverance in trying to make habeas review, and the obligation of the courts to provide it, mean something of value both to prisoners and to the Nation. [some internal cites omitted]

grokster

well — grokster is out. from the beginning:

We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.

and from the end:

There is substantial evidence in MGM’s favor on all elements of inducement, and summary judgment in favor of Grokster and StreamCast was error. On remand, re-consideration of MGMís motion for summary judgment will be in order.

J. Souter wrote the majority opinion which apparently and not surprisingly developed an “inducement” theory. Breyer concurrence (with Souter & O’Connor) and Ginsburg concurrence (with Rehnquist and Kennedy).

I saw it here [on Joe Hall's NQB2] first.

lots of discussions (confession: i haven’t had time to read them yet; just the opinion; my thoughts on metablog commentaries may come later tonight):

my own quick thoughts:

  • This outcome is no surprise. It seemed obvious that the Court was going to take a middle position that would take some kind of bite out of Sony; the real question was how big a bite.
  • So how big is this bite? The Court established an inducement standard, setting out the facts implicating Grokster et al’s knowledge and intent to have copyrighted files copied. The battle for the next few years or decades will be to expand or constrict this standard to the facts of Grokster.
    • The inducement standard is treated as part of the contributory infringement standard in one place, (p.12), but elsewhere as a third test parallel to contributory and vicarious.
    • The new inducement standard on the one hand might not be horrible, if it is limited to the facts at hand: It was certainly clear that Grokster et al intended to follow in the footsteps of Napster. Modeling your entity after another entity that was successfully characterized as a “bad actor” now looks like not so good an idea.
    • But on the other hand, the evidence cited in some instances is pretty patchy/sparse:
      • The majority opinion cites, for instance, that “Grokster’s name is an apparent derivative of Napster.” p.7, and again at p.21 (“Grokster’s name is apparently derived from Napster…”) If that kind of naming can constitute evidence then every e-business and i-product may someday be in trouble.
      • The majority also cites attempts to capture / buy relevant search engine keywords. (p.7 & p.22)
      • The Court also felt that “the defendants’ failure to develop … filtering tools or other mechanisms to diminish the infringing activity … underscores Grokster’s and StreamCast’s intentional facilitation of their users’ infringement.” I really dislike this and any other pro-network-policing implications.
    • More generally, though, I am still concerned with the dotted line this opinion implicitly draws around design decisions. It should be permissible to design your product around precedents, to avoid clearly unlawful behavior. It can and should be permissible to push that boundary in new directions — new innovation proceeds by pushing old boundaries. In the case of copyright infringement, pushing a boundary too far carries its own risk: that you might fall afoul of that boundary and be found liable for copyright infringement. But here, acknowledging the design decisions is evidence in and of itself of “inducement”. That’s troubling, because it requires that designers adopt a willful blindness attitude very similar to that which Judge Posner decried in Aimster. And it could make it difficult to defend and describe innovations in court.
    • I’m also concerned with the very notion of including an intent-based standard in copyright. Copyright is a strict liability regime. Liability is thus quite broad: any actual infringement creates liability, regardless of intent. Adding an intent-based liability to the further-afield secondary liability broadens copyright even further. The Court did attempt to address this, at p.19:

      We are, of course, mindful of the need to keep from trenching on regular commerce or discouraging the development of technology with lawful and unlawful potential. Accordingly, just as Sony did not find intentional inducement despite the knowledge of the VCR manufacturer that its device could be used to infringe, 464 U. S., at 439, n. 19, mere knowledge of infringing potential or of actual infringing uses would not be enough here to subject a distributor to liability. Nor would ordinary acts incident to product distribution, such as offering customers technical support or product updates, support liability in themselves. The inducement rule, instead, premises liability on purposeful, culpable expression and conduct, and thus does nothing to compromise legitimate commerce or discourage innovation having a lawful promise.

      Yeah, we’ll see. Here’s hoping the Court is right in its optimistic assertion that its new inducement “does nothing to compromise legitimate commerce or discourage innovtaion having a lawful promise”.

    • The Court also played dangerously with the numbers game, citing “the number of infringing downloads that occur every day using StreamCast’s and Grokster’s software” as a “powerful… argument for imposing liability”. At 12. And again at 23: “As the account of the facts indicates, there is evidence of infringement on a gigantic scale, and there is no serious issue of the adequacy of MGM’s showing on this point…. ”

      These lines will certainly appear in content-owners’ briefs and attempts to get courts to consider the quantity and volume of infringement — the very standard rejected in Sony.

    • The Court states that neither of the Sony uses (recording TV off-air, and librarying programs) was “necessarily infringing”. (p.14). So presumably new uses are not “necessarily infringing”. But wouldn’t this have applied to Napster? Personal file sharing, of degraded-quality MP3s, without commercial exchanges — that was a new use, and not a “necessarily infringing” use. Ah, this is going to beef up the market prong of the fair use test, I bet. Like it needs any more beefing.
    • The Court restricts Sony to contributory infringement not vicarious liability. Some courts assumed so anyway, but Posner in Aimster pointed out that it was really unclear. Grokster resolves that unclarity by describing Sony as merely about contributory infringement, not about vicarious liability.

      On those facts, with no evidence of stated or indicated intent to promote infringing uses, the only conceivable basis for imposing liability was on a theory of contributory infringement arising from its sale of VCRs to consumers with knowledge that some would use them to infringe. Id., at 439.

      at 14. And later at 16-17:

      [The Ninth Circuit's] view of Sony, however, was error, converting the case from one about liability resting on imputed intent to one about liability on any theory. Because Sony did not displace other theories of secondary liability …

    • On the other hand, the Court seems to want to leave Sony otherwise untouched:

      Because Sony did not displace other theories of secondary liability, and because we find below that it was error to grant summary judgment to the companies on MGMís inducement claim, we do not revisit Sony further, as MGM requests, to add a more quantified description of the point of balance between protection and commerce when liability rests solely on distribution with knowledge that unlawful use will occur. It is enough to note that the Ninth Circuitís judgment rested on an erroneous understanding of Sony and to leave further consideration of the Sony rule for a day when that may be required.

      at 17.

      Added commentary (6/28):

      The real problem is that while the Court leaving Sony untouched in name only, the Court manipulated the entire environment in which Sony lived. Sony, as it played out in the real world, stood for the generic proposition that secondary liability for developing & distributing a technology accrued only where there were no “substantial noninfringing uses” to the technology. The fact that Sony was vague on the vicarious / contributory distinction was fine — it created a grander position for the Sony standard vis-a-vis secondary liability generally. Technological development ought not be held hostage either to existing business models or to those who seek to get around the existing business models.

      Despite the Court’s intentions, Grokster chips away at Sony in two ways: First, the Court hones down the vagueness and wiggle room in Sony by construing it as a contributory case. Second, the Court opens up an entirely new avenue for secondary liability, one with (as yet) no pro-technology out. So, now technology developers, instead of being able to rely on a general, broad principle of protection for multiple-use technologies, have to watch out for both vicarious liability and the new (to copyright) inducement standard.

      The protection for technological development is gone. So what if Grokster developed its technology intending to foster copyright infringement? Once the technology is out there, it started being used to, yes, share noninfringing materials. And those uses will continue to grow and evolve. On some level, Grokster the company is merely an agent for technological evolution. But this decision is not aimed at the agent; it’s aimed at technological evolution itself. If they had wanted to aim at the agent, then they could have restricted their theory to the inducing acts and words — not to the development and distribution of the technology. How much did Grokster’s ad campaigns actually induce infringement? And how much did the mere capability of the technology “induce” infringement? Unfortunately this decision doesn’t (at first reading anyway) lend itself to focusing on the acts. It looks at the acts, but it targets the technology.

      < / end of added commentary >

    • I don’t like footnote 13:

      It is not only that encouraging a particular consumer to infringe a copyright can give rise to secondary liability for the infringement that results. Inducement liability goes beyond that, and the distribution of a product can itself give rise to liability where evidence shows that the distributor intended and encouraged the product to be used to infringe. In such a case, the culpable act is not merely the encouragement of infringement but also the distribution of the tool intended for infringing use.

  • Concurrences:
    • Breyer/Souter/O’Connor concur with the majority but disagree with Ginsburg’s concurrence (Ginsburg/Rehnquist/Kennedy) evaluating Grokster’s potential liability for “contributory infringement”. Breyer agrees with the inducement carve-out, but separately finds that Grokster meets the Sony test for contributory infringement.

      On the other hand, Breyer regularly cites the quantity in Sony — which suggests that even though he is supporting Grokster in this discussion, he has bought into the quantitative analysis anyway. However Breyer does clearly point out that 10% may not be enough, should not be fixed, and that Aimster was a stricter interpretation of Sony than he would have put forth.

      Breyer’s opinion is ultimately the most thoughtful and most directly engages the policy balances at stake. And, demonstrates the most familiarity with the record.

    • Ginsburg: I really take issue with this concurrence. How can J. Ginsburg say

      Here, there has been no finding of fair use and little beyond anecdotal evidence of noninfringing uses. … These declarations (some of them hearsay) include assertions that number of copyright owners authorize distribution of their works on the Internet and that some public domain material is available through peer-to-peer networks.

      (at 5) The fact that Rick Prelinger and Brewster Kahle have not personally used the P2P networks is used against them! Merely providing content which they authorized for distribution over P2P networks was not enough. Contrast Sony: If Ginsburg had been writing it, apparently Mr. Rogers’ statements that he was happy to have his content copied would not have been sufficient. No, Mr. Rogers would have been required to have actually used VCRs to tape his materials off air.

      Apparently all public domain and permissive filesharing constitutes “anecdotal evidence of noninfringing uses”. But shouldn’t distribution of teachers’ guides, satires, etc., count as fair uses? Oh — someone needs to make the compelling case for fair use filesharing! But I suspect nothing would persuade J. Ginsburg. Even blind orphans from Tanzania who get copies of works not otherwise available in Tanzania may not merit a tear if weighed against the all-important interests of large copyright-holding movie companies and cartels.

      Ginsburg is pushing for a reconsideration of quantitative factors, which apparently will look at the state of infringement at the moment the litigation is filed. Needless to say this would stifle and kill all sorts of technological developments.

cert granted in grokster

according to scotus blog, the court granted cert in grokster. [order 12/10]

Opening briefs (and neutral and supporting amici) due Jan. 24.
Opposition brief (and supporting briefs) due Feb. 28.
Oral arguments in March.

grokster cert. petition thoughts

I was sad to see how many different groups jumped in on the Grokster cert. petition (asking to grant cert). [EFF's Grokster page] Our amicus (telling the court to deny cert) looks pretty lonely in comparison.

Our brief addresses what two of what I think are the four possible reasons to take the case. One argument to take the case: the 9th Circuit & the district court got it wrong, and there are not substantial noninfringing uses. Our brief points out that there are substantial noninfringing uses, and thus the decision falls within Sony. A second argument to take the case is that the court might wish to reconsider Sony. Our brief argues that there’s no reason to reconsider Sony; Sony is still a good decision and has many beneficial effects, and Congress and private parties can tinker with it on the edges as necessary.

Other arguments to take the case that we don’t address: Third: circuit split. We don’t take this one on but EFF did — there is no circuit split, really, although there is an apparent split in outcome on the technology. But the question, under Sony, is whether there are substantial noninfringing uses. Aimster court said there probably were noninfringing uses, but since the parties didn’t put forward any noninfringing uses, the lower court wasn’t wrong to not seek them out. Grokster said the parties put forward noninfringing uses and found them substantial. That doesn’t look like a circuit split to me.

A fourth line of argument says take it on because this is a big technology, a big deal, and it’s very important. Nothing you can really do with that argument except point out that it’ll work itself out, which it will. We don’t really address that in detail in our brief but we do address it implicitly.

The various arguments the amici & parties lay out in favor of granting cert boil down to this: (a) we really want Sony reconsidered; and (b) this is a big controversial issue.

But as to the second, IMO, newsworthiness isn’t enough of a reason to grant cert.

That leaves the first. The only reason, really, to grant cert would be if the court wants to reconsider Sony — if they do want to reconsider Sony, then I agree that would be a good reason to grant cert. I fervently hope the court does not want to reconsider Sony. Interestingly, the support-of-cert petitioners aren’t ballsy enough to actually say outright that they want Sony reconsidered. (Or at least, none of the ones I’ve read yet have said so.) So instead they’re just trying to poke holes at it and suggest that it’s not working for the Internet, or in these times, or with this new technology, whatever. Some of them argue circuit split but none do it very convincingly. The content industry briefs (including the party brief by MGM) take on the substantial-noninfringing-uses argument, basically arguing that the noninfringing uses are not substantial.

Admittedly, I’m biased, but I don’t think that overall they make a convincing case for granting cert.

(more…)

religion cites
  • supreme court granted cert on two 10-commandments posting cases [10/12] cite from cornell
    …. this makes me verrry nervous
  • and the court also granted cert on a Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act case [10/12]