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.)