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Third-Party Copyright Liability After Grokster

By Alfred C. Yen. Full text here.

This Article studies the construction of third-party copyright liability after the recent Supreme Court case Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. This inquiry is important because third-party copyright liability has become a controversial area of law that affects the viability of entire industries. Unfortunately, the law governing third-party copyright liability is unclear. Grokster involved a claim of third-party liability against defendants whose technology supported the sharing of music over the Internet, and it represents the Supreme Court’s attempt to bring coherence to the relevant law.

Grokster is a difficult case to understand. It added to the law of third-party copyright liability a new cause of action for inducement, but the meaning of inducement is unclear, especially when one considers the incoherent structure of pre-Grokster law. Future courts will be challenged to interpret Grokster in a way that creates an effective, coherent structure for the law of third-party copyright liability.

The Article is among the first to comprehensively analyze Grokster and its effect on the theory and construction of third-party copyright liability. This effort includes a survey of pre-Grokster law, the application of tort theory to expose the structure of conflicts in the law, an explanation of the rationale and implications of Grokster, and the construction of a coherent framework for third-party copyright liability. The Article concludes that Grokster made important theoretical and practical choices about the law that are appropriately sensitive to the costs and benefits of third-party copyright liability.