Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd.
545 U.S. 913 (2005)

  • Grokster wrote a computer program that people could download for free. The program let the users copy files of one-another’s computers.
    • Almost, if not all, of the files people were copying were copyrighted music files.
    • Grokster did not control the files, never had any resident on any of their computers, and did not centralize any lists of where the files were.
  • Music publishers, led my MGM, sued Grokster for contributory copyright infringement.
  • The Trial Court found for Grokster. MGM appealed.
    • The Trial Court looked to Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, Inc. (464 U.S. 417 (1984)), and found that since Grokster’s program could be used to trade non-infringing files (like works without copyright or those under Creative Commons license), Grokster was not a contributory copyright infringer.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. MGM appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that there was little to no evidence that Grokster was being used for non-infringing purposes. Therefore it fails the test established by Sony.
    • The Court found that Grokster had actively encouraged people to use the program to make copies of copyrighted music.
      • Aka inducement intent.
  • There were two concurrences:
    • In one concurrence it was argued that the percentage of non-infringing files being shared on Grokster was roughly approximate to those at issue in Sony. However, Grokster’s inducement of its customers to use the product illegally still made them contributory copyright infringers.
    • In another concurrence, it was argued that there was not enough evidence of non-infringing uses, so Grokster was liable under the test established by Sony. Inducement was not an element that needed to be established.
  • This decision left in question what the requirements for being liable for contributory copyright infringement are.
    • It could be argued that there must be a showing that the defendant has actively induced or encouraged infringement.
    • Alternately, it could be argued that the only issue is whether there is substantial non-infringing use.