334 F.3d 643 (7th Cir. 2003), 02-4125, In re Aimster Copyright Litigation

Docket Nº:02-4125
Citation:334 F.3d 643
Party Name:In re Aimster Copyright Litigation
Case Date:June 30, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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334 F.3d 643 (7th Cir. 2003)

67 U.S.P.Q.2d 1233


Appeal of: John Deep, Defendant.

No. 02-4125.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 30, 2003.

Argued June 4, 2003.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Floyd A. Mandell, Bradley S. Rochlen, Katten Muchin Zavis Rosenman, Chicago, IL, Russell J. Frackman (argued), Karin G. Pagnanelli, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, Los Angeles, CA, Evan R. Chesler, Katherine B. Forrest, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, New York, NY, Matthew J. Oppenheim, Stanley Pierre-Louis, Recording Industry Association of America, Inc., Washington, DC, Carey R. Ramos, Aidan Synnott, Theodore K. Cheng, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP, New York, NY, for plaintiffs-appellees, Zomba Recording Corporation, et al.

Carey R. Ramos, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, LLP, New York, NY, for plaintiffs Jerry Leiber, individually and d/b/a Jerry Leiber Music; Mike Stoller, individually and d/b/a Mike Stoller Music; the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization; Criterion Music Corporation; and Famous Music Corporation.

William L. Montague, Jr. (argued), Stoll, Keenon & Park, Lexington, KY, for defendant-appellant.

Before POSNER, RIPPLE, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

POSNER, Circuit Judge.

Owners of copyrighted popular music filed a number of closely related suits, which were consolidated and transferred to the Northern District of Illinois by the Multidistrict Litigation Panel, against John Deep and corporations that are controlled by him and need not be discussed separately. The numerous plaintiffs, who among them appear to own most subsisting copyrights on American popular music, claim that Deep's "Aimster" Internet service (recently renamed "Madster") is a contributory and vicarious infringer of these copyrights. The district judge entered a broad preliminary injunction, which had the effect of shutting down the Aimster service until the merits of the suit are finally resolved, from which Deep appeals. Aimster is one of a number of enterprises (the former Napster is the best known) that have been sued for facilitating the swapping of digital copies of popular music, most of it copyrighted, over the Internet. (For an illuminating discussion, see Tim Wu, "When Code Isn't Law," 89 Va. L. Rev. 679 (2003), esp. 723-41; and with special reference to Aimster, see Alec Klein, "Going Napster One Better; Aimster Says Its File-Sharing Software Skirts Legal Quagmire," Wash. Post, Feb. 25, 2001, p. A1.) To simplify exposition, we refer to the appellant as "Aimster" and to the appellees (the plaintiffs) as the recording industry.

Teenagers and young adults who have access to the Internet like to swap computer files containing popular music. If the music is copyrighted, such swapping, which involves making and transmitting a digital copy of the music, infringes copyright. The swappers, who are ignorant or more commonly disdainful of copyright and in any event discount the likelihood of being sued or prosecuted for copyright infringement, are the direct infringers. But firms that facilitate their infringement, even if they are not themselves infringers because they are not making copies of the music that is shared, may be liable to the copyright owners as contributory infringers. Recognizing the impracticability or futility of a copyright owner's suing a multitude of individual infringers ("chasing individual consumers is time consuming and is a teaspoon solution to an ocean problem," Randal C. Picker, "Copyright as Entry Policy: The Case of Digital Distribution," 47 Antitrust Bull. 423, 442 (2002)), the law allows a copyright holder to sue a contributor to the infringement instead, in

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effect as an aider and abettor. Another analogy is to the tort of intentional interference with contract, that is, inducing a breach of contract. See, e.g., Sufrin v. Hosier, 128 F.3d 594, 597 (7th Cir. 1997). If a breach of contract (and a copyright license is just a type of contract) can be prevented most effectively by actions taken by a third party, it makes sense to have a legal mechanism for placing liability for the consequences of the breach on him as well as on the party that broke the contract.

The district judge ruled that the recording industry had demonstrated a likelihood of prevailing on the merits should the case proceed to trial. He so ruled with respect to vicarious as well as contributory infringement; we begin with the latter, the more familiar charge.

The Aimster system has the following essential components: proprietary software that can be downloaded free of charge from Aimster's Web site; Aimster's server (a server is a computer that provides services to other computers, in this case personal computers owned or accessed by Aimster's users, over a network), which hosts the Web site and collects and organizes information obtained from the users but does not make copies of the swapped files themselves and that also provides the matching service described below; computerized tutorials instructing users of the software on how to use it for swapping computer files; and "Club Aimster," a related Internet service owned by Deep that users of Aimster's software can join for a fee and use to download the "top 40" popular-music files more easily than by using the basic, free service. The "AIM" in "Aimster" stands for AOL instant-messaging service. Aimster is available only to users of such services (of which AOL's is the most popular) because Aimster users can swap files only when both are online and connected in a chat room enabled by an instant-messaging service.

Someone who wants to use Aimster's basic service for the first time to swap files downloads the software from Aimster's Web site and then registers on the system by entering a user name (it doesn't have to be his real name) and a password at the Web site. Having done so, he can designate any other registrant as a "buddy" and can communicate directly with all his buddies when he and they are online, attaching to his communications (which are really just e-mails) any files that he wants to share with the buddies. All communications back and forth are encrypted by the sender by means of encryption software furnished by Aimster as part of the software package downloadable at no charge from the Web site, and are decrypted by the recipient using the same Aimster-furnished software package. If the user does not designate a buddy or buddies, then all the users of the Aimster system become his buddies; that is, he can send or receive from any of them.

Users list on their computers the computer files they are willing to share. (They needn't list them separately, but can merely designate a folder in their computer that contains the files they are willing to share.) A user who wants to make a copy of a file goes online and types the name of the file he wants in his "Search For" field. Aimster's server searches the computers of those users of its software who are online and so are available to be searched for files they are willing to share, and if it finds the file that has been requested it instructs the computer in which it is housed to transmit the file to the recipient via the Internet for him to download into his computer. Once he has done this he can if he wants make the file available for sharing with other users of the Aimster system by listing it as explained above. In principle, therefore, the purchase of a single CD could be levered into the distribution within days or even hours of millions of identical, near-perfect (depending on the compression format used) copies of the music recorded on the CD--hence the recording industry's anxiety about file-sharing services oriented toward consumers of popular music. But because copies of the songs reside on the computers of the users

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and not on Aimster's own server, Aimster is not a direct infringer of the copyrights on those songs. Its function is similar to that of a stock exchange, which is a facility for matching offers rather than a repository of the things being exchanged (shares of stock). But unlike transactions on a stock exchange, the consummated "transaction" in music files does not take place in the facility, that is, in Aimster's server.

What we have described so far is a type of Internet file-sharing system that might be created for innocuous purposes such as the expeditious exchange of confidential business data among employees of a business firm. See Daniel Nasaw, "Instant Messages Are Popping Up All Over," Wall St. J., June 12, 2003, p. B4; David A. Vise, "AOL Makes Instant-Messaging Deal," Wash. Post, June 12, 2003, p. E5. The fact that copyrighted materials might sometimes be shared between users of such a system without the authorization of the copyright owner or a fair-use privilege would not make the firm a contributory infringer. Otherwise AOL's instant-messaging system, which Aimster piggybacks on, might be deemed a contributory infringer. For there is no doubt that some of the attachments that AOL's multitudinous subscribers transfer are copyrighted, and such distribution is an infringement unless authorized by the owner of the copyright. The Supreme Court made clear in the Sony decision that the producer of a product that has substantial noninfringing uses is not a contributory infringer merely because some of the uses actually made of the product (in that case a machine, the predecessor of today's videocassette recorders, for recording television programs on tape) are infringing. Sony Corp. of America, Inc. v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417, 104 S.Ct. 774, 78 L.Ed.2d 574 (1984); see also Vault Corp. v. Quaid Software Ltd., 847 F.2d 255, 262-67 (5th Cir. 1988). How much more the Court held is the principal issue that divides the parties; and let us try to resolve it, recognizing of course that the Court must have the...

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