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Some of the nation’s leading computer scientists are siding with file-swapping companies against the music and movie industries. They were joined by tech firms and consumer groups, among others, in urging the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to side with two online file-sharing firms in their high-stakes battle with Hollywood and the recording industry. The recording companies and movie studios are appealing to the high court to reverse lower court decisions that absolved Grokster Inc. and StreamCast Networks, which distributes the Morpheus file-sharing software, of responsibility when their customers illegally swap songs and movies. The justices are scheduled to hear arguments in the case March 29. In briefs filed Tuesday, Grokster, StreamCast and their supporters urged the court not to reinterpret the legal doctrine it established in the 1984 Sony Betamax case. At the time, the Court ruled that Sony’s video recorder was legal because it had legitimate uses apart from making unauthorized copies of movies and television shows. The entertainment industry has asked the Court to reconcile the 20-year-old ruling to protect copyright holders it says are hard-pressed to safeguard their intellectual property in today’s digital and online world. “A rule like this will make it almost impossible for anyone to innovate or create new products unless they have the blessing of the copyright holders,” said Grokster attorney Michael Page during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “And when the copyright holders also control the distribution systems, that blessing will not be forthcoming.” A group of 17 computer science and engineering professors at nine universities, including Harold Abelson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Edward W. Felten of Princeton and David J. Farber of Carnegie Mellon, stressed in their brief that they feared if the Court sided with the entertainment companies it could chill technological progress in computers and the Internet. “If this court should announce a more restrictive rule, those who create the latest advances in technology will halt or significantly scale back their work, for fear of massive copyright infringement damages,” the professors’ brief asserts. Four consumer and public-interest groups also weighed in, arguing that any steps to change the Betamax doctrine would give Hollywood and other copyright owners the power to censor information technology that ultimately could benefit consumers. Entertainment companies “would turn this into a surveillance society in which every file is fingerprinted, every user is tagged, every transaction is monitored,” said Mark Cooper, a spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America. Others who filed briefs in support of Grokster and StreamCast included a group of law professors, the National Association of Shareholder and Consumer Attorneys, the National Venture Capital Association, Creative Commons and trade groups representing technology companies such as Intel Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. Intel also submitted a separate brief, where it argues that any changes to the Sony Betamax decision would put the onus on it and other companies to “anticipate the potential uses of their innovations …” and then redesign their technology to make sure it doesn’t violate copyright laws. That “would stifle innovation and dramatically increase the cost of such technologies and of the consumer and enterprise products based on those technologies,” the company argued. A brief by several recording artists, including the rock band Heart, rapper Chuck D and Sananda Maitreya, formerly known as Terence Trent D’arby, was expected to be filed later Tuesday. The entertainment companies also count several recording artists, including Sheryl Crow, the Dixie Chicks and Avril Lavigne, and artists’ unions among those who filed briefs supporting their appeal. Several conservative family groups, professional sports leagues, state attorneys general from 39 states, the U.S. government, university professors and online services that legally sell music or movies, including Napster Inc., MusicNet and CinemaNow also filed briefs in support of the entertainment industry. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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