In his post about the MGM v. Grokster case, Christopher Baus asks “Where’s Nick Bradbury?” It’s a fair question given my stance on software piracy, but as I’ve written before, I believe it’s a mistake to hold developers of P2P products liable for the copyright infringement of their users.
As you can imagine, that’s not an easy position for me to take since 100% of my income comes from software sales. My work is pirated left and right on file-sharing networks, so I’d probably turn a blind eye if I thought this case would affect only the current swarm of spyware-infested P2P apps that were so obviously designed for “sharing” copyrighted material. But that’s the problem. This case doesn’t just affect these piracy tools. It could affect technologies like BitTorrent which are widely used for piracy, yet have legitimate uses as well.
And I have to be concerned about how this case could impact small developers such as myself by burdening us with legal concerns. Mark Cuban hit upon this in his blog recently:
“If Grokster loses, technological innovation might not die, but it will have such a significant price tag associated with it, it will be the domain of the big corporations only.”
Look at it this way: if people use FeedDemon to subscribe to warez feeds and download copyrighted material, should my company be held liable? The idea seems ridiculous given that I obviously didn’t design FeedDemon for this purpose, but this possibility won’t seem as far-fetched if MGM wins this case.
As an aside, I look at the current crop of file-sharing software and see an opportunity for someone. As the success of iTunes has shown, there are millions of customers who are willing to dump file-sharing tools in favor of a more legitimate solution. I’d love to see a tool which enabled purchasing software as easily as you can purchase music on iTunes (look at RealArcade for a specialized example of this). These days I buy far more music than I did before I switched to iTunes, and the primary reason for this is that it’s so easy. If instead of simply clicking “Buy Now” to purchase music I had to type in my contact information, credit card details, etc., with every purchase, I’d buy a fraction of the music I currently do. Why not sell software the same way?