Book Review: Peer-to-Peer File Sharing and Secondary Liability in Copyright Law

Peer-to-Peer File Sharing and Secondary Liability in Copyright Law, Edited by Alain Strowel, Professor, Facultés Universitaires Saint-Louis, Brussels and University of Liège, Avocat, Belgium

Edward Elgar
Cheltenham, UK • Northampton, MA, USA

In this book prominent academics and specialised practitioners from the US and the EU offer a comprehensive review on the issue of secondary liability for copyright infringement, particularly P2P file sharing and online infringements. Some contributions analyse the relevant case law on third-party liability and their implications for the future. The decisions on P2P also involve issues of international law and data protection. Other more forward-looking contributions provide original insight into the future shape of copyright in the online world, for instance whether it could or even should evolve towards a compensation system. By combining these avenues, the book will be of particular interest to practitioners and legal scholars.

It follows an abstract from the Introduction:

Every book has a history. This book originates in a 2005 Brussels conference discussing the impact of peer to-peer technology on the future of copyright law. Peer-to-peer technology, as further explained below, allows people to exchange information over the Internet via many equal or ‘peer’ machines linked across a network, rather than on a central server. From a copyright point of view, the main controversy surrounding peer-to-peer networks is whether providers of peer-to-peer technology and services can be liable when users infringe copyright through their networks. This issue has been hotly debated in legal circles and in the press, especially in 2005, when the US Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated decision in the controversial case MGM Studios, Inc. v Grokster Ltd.3 In this decision, the Supreme Court held that the two popular file-sharing networks, Grokster and Streamcast (dba Morpheus), were indeed liable for ‘actively inducing’ the end-users’ acts of infringement. As will be explained, the liability for inducement is one form of secondary liability for copyright infringement.

Peer-to-peer (or P2P) file sharing and secondary liability are the central themes in this collection of essays on copyright. Both topics are closely linked. ‘Secondary’ (or derived) liability presupposes a primary infringer. In peer-topeer networks, the primary infringers, those who upload copyrighted files without authorization, are numerous and difficult to reach, and going after them poses many legal and practical issues. Copyright owners thus prefer to direct their legal actions against those who allow or promote direct infringements, for instance, those who operate the peer-to-peer networks or develop the technical means (in particular the software) to make primary infringements online possible. The development of peer-to-peer networks over the Internet has, therefore, brought the issue of secondary liability to the forefront.


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