September 18, 2020

Inducing Confusion

Alex, and others reporting on the Supreme Court arguments in the Grokster case, noticed that the justices seemed awfully interested in active inducement theories. Speculation has begun about what this might mean.

News.com is running a piece by John Borland, connecting the court discussion to last year’s ill-fated Induce Act. The Induce Act, which was killed by a unanimous chorus of criticism from the technology world, would have created a broad new category of liability for companies that failed to do enough (by vaguely defined standards) to prevent copyright infringement.

(The news.com piece has a terrible headline: Court mulls P2P ‘pushers’. This fails to convey the article’s content, and it drops the loaded word “pushers”, which appears nowhere in the article. The headline writer seems to acknowledge that the word doesn’t fit, by putting it in scare-quotes, which only highlights the fact that nobody is being quoted. Don’t blame John Borland; the headline was probably written by his editor. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a misleading headline from news.com.)

There’s a big difference between the Induce Act and the kind of narrow active inducement standard that was suggested to the court. Indeed, the main advocate to the court of an active inducement standard was IEEE-USA, which testified against the Induce Act. Here, as always, the details matter. A decision by the court to adopt an active inducement standard could be very good news, or very bad news, depending on the specifics of what the court says.

The worst case, in some respects, is probably the one Fred von Lohmann mentions in the article, in which the court endorses the general idea of an inducement standard, but doesn’t fill in the details. If that happens, we’ll be stuck with years and years of litigation to figure out what the court meant. Regardless, it seems likely that after the court announces its decision, Congress will consider Induce Act II.