In a case with huge implications for the media and technology industries, but narrower ones for higher education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that entertainment companies can sue commercial providers of file sharing programs for copyright infringement.
The court's decision in MGM Studios v. Grokster, which provided endless fodder for law professors and other experts on intellectual property law on Monday, is directly relevant for colleges and universities mainly because students have been major consumers of the movies and music that the entertainment studios have accused the file sharing companies, like Grokster, of permitting to be downloaded illegally.
The movie and music studios have sued students at numerous campuses, and colleges, unhappy about that and about the fact that the downloading clogs their campus networks, have frequently sided with the entertainment companies in trying to restrict their students from downloading through the file sharing programs.
Some institutions, like Pennsylvania State University, have sought to find alternative, legal means of giving their students access to downloadable music and other media.
In response to Monday's decision, Penn State's president, Graham Spanier, issued a statement in which he said the court's ruling has made clear higher education's "responsibility to address the problem of copyright infringement."
Colleges, said Spanier, who heads a committee of college and entertainment industry leaders, should examine their policies "surrounding the inappropriate use of university networks to access peer-to-peer services that are clearly intended to be used for the piracy of movies and music," and "raise awareness of copyright issues, teach our students about integrity, and prove that the higher education community values ethical behavior on its campuses."