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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Legal Realism in Action: Indirect Copyright Liability's Continuing Tort Framework and Sony’s de facto Demise

  • Author(s): Menell, Peter S.
  • Nimmer, David
  • et al.

The Supreme Court’s indirect copyright liability standard, derived in Sony Corporation of America v. Universal City Studios from patent law and reasserted in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd, is widely seen as creating a safe harbor for distributors of dual use technologies. Yet, when one looks to cases decided since Sony, legislative enactments, and the decisions of technology companies in the marketplace, a very different reality emerges. This article explores and explains the broad gulf between the idealized (and idolized) Sony safe harbor and the practical reality. It shows that the law in many respects reflects the tort principles that undergird copyright liability more generally.

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