In this case the software company known as Grokster along with other companies distributed free software that allowed users to share files between their computers. The software was not intended for illegal downloading but users mainly used the software to download copyrighted files. The software companies knew that this illegal file-sharing was going on and they encouraged it through computer ads. A large group of entertainment companies headed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) sued Grokster and the other software companies for violation of the Copyright Act. They said that the software companies were intentionally distributing the software so that users could infringe works that had been copyrighted. The district court along with the Ninth Circuit court ruled in favor of Grokster and the software companies stating that the software could have been used lawfully therefore they were not liable for what users chose to do with it.
Were the software companies liable for infringement? In my opinion they were liable. The fact that the software companies were encouraging consumers to continue to buy and use their product even though a great number of them were using the product for the wrong purpose makes them partially responsible for the user's actions. The encouragement by the companies was only a way for them to get more consumers and thus make more profit.
The case went to the Supreme Court and they ruled in favor of MGM Studios and the entertainment companies that the software companies were liable for the infringement acts of their users. The court said that although the Copyright Act did not make someone liable for another's infringement, secondary liability applies. The fact that the software was so widely used makes it difficult to deal with each individual infringer therefore the secondary source, the software companies, must be liable.
This case shows a pretty advanced form of piracy in music software. The fact that the court system was able to use secondary source liability to persecute the software companies shows the attempts of the court system to keep up with the advancement of piracy in order to fight it.