LATELY — 3 September 2004

The "Betamax Decision"

From the “Betamax Decision,” fre­quently cited in support of P2P file-sharing technologies:

“The sale of copying equipment, like the sale of other ar­ti­cles of commerce, does not con­sti­tute con­trib­u­tory in­fringe­ment if the product is widely used for legitimate, un­ob­jec­tion­able purposes, or, indeed, is merely capable of sub­stan­tial non­in­fring­ing uses.” (source)

I’m sur­prised that “like the sale of other ar­ti­cles of commerce” appears here: states rou­tinely limit the use of devices that have “substantial non­in­fring­ing uses” if these non­in­fring­ing uses have severe enough consequences. Prob­a­bly the most extreme example is that of guns. The vast ma­jor­ity of guns are not used in ob­jec­tional ways. Nevertheless, the state (quite appropriately) places limits on the type of gun people are allowed to buy, as well as who can buy them.

(Issues re­lat­ing to driving provide many more less dra­matic examples: the state en­forces speed limits, for example, even though most people would drive safely if there were none, and there is oth­er­wise no reason to not allow people to drive at what­ever speed they want.)