Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 62, Issue 2, pp 147–162 | Cite as

The Ethics of Innovation: p2p Software Developers and Designing Substantial Noninfringing Uses Under the Sony Doctrine

  • Edward LeeEmail author


This essay explores the controversy over peer-to-peer (p2p) software, examining the legal and ethical dimensions of allowing software companies to develop p2p technologies. It argues that, under the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Sony betamax case, technology developers must be accorded the freedom to innovate and develop technologies that are capable of substantial noninfringing uses. This doctrine, known as the Sony doctrine, provides an important safe harbor for technological development, including p2p. The safe harbor, however, does not immunize conduct beyond the design, sale, or supply of the product. For other conduct that falls outside the Sony safe harbor, the traditional standards of secondary liability apply.


copyright file sharing innovation music downloading peer-to-peer software safe harbor Sony technology 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Apple: 2004, ‘The iTunes Music Store Countdown to a 100 Million Songs’, Scholar
  2. Associated Press, ‘Apple’s iTunes Sells 250 Million Songs’, Jan. 24, 2005.Google Scholar
  3. Barnes, K.: 2004, ‘2004: A Happy-News Year for Music Industry,’ USA Today, Jan. 6, 2005, D1.Google Scholar
  4. Chisum, D. 2004On Patents § 17.03[3]Mathew Bender & Co.Newark2004Google Scholar
  5. Christensen, C. 1997The Innovator’s DilemmaHarvard Business School PressCambridge, MA143158xv–xvi, 131–132, 143–158Google Scholar
  6. Easley, R. F.: 2004, ‘Ethical Issues in Industry Response to Innovation: The Case of the Music Industry’ (working paper).Google Scholar
  7. Easterbrook, F. 1999Cyberspace Versus Property Law?Texas Review of Law & Policy4103113Google Scholar
  8. Fagin, M., Pasquale, F., Weatherall, K. 2002Beyond Napster: Using Antitrust Law to Advance and Enhance Online Music DistributionBoston University Journal of Science and Technology Law8451573Google Scholar
  9. Fisher, W. 2004Promises to Keep: Technology, Law, and the Future of EntertainmentStanford University PressStanford, CAGoogle Scholar
  10. Gordon, W. 1984Fair Use as Market Failure: A Structural and Economic Analysis of the Betamax Case and Its PredecessorsColumbia Law Review8216001657Google Scholar
  11. Hatch, O.: 2004, News Release, ‘Hatch Introduces Bill to Stop Inducement of Children to Commit Crimes’, June 22, 2004.Google Scholar
  12. Heine, P.: 2004, ‘Infinity Exec Exits Amid Controversy’, Reuters, Nov. 27, 2004 (online).Google Scholar
  13. Holmes, O. W. 1897The Path of the LawHarvard Law Review10457478Google Scholar
  14. Ivey, L. M. 2003–2004Losing the Battles, Winning the War: Public Nuisance as a Theory of Gun Manufacturer Liability in TortCumberland Law Review34231251Google Scholar
  15. Jardin, X.: 2004, ‘Music Is Not a Loaf of Bread’, Wired, Nov. 15, 2004 (online).Google Scholar
  16. Katz, P. N., Riddle, R. R. 2004Designing Around a United States PatentSouth Texas Law Review45647684Google Scholar
  17. Keaten, J.: 2005, ‘Music Industry Upbeat Over Online Sales’, Associated Press, Jan. 22, 2005.Google Scholar
  18. Landes, W., Posner, R. 2003The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property LawHarvard University PressCambridge, CA10Google Scholar
  19. Lardner, J. 1987Fast Forward: A Machine and the Commotion It CausedW.W. Norton & Co.New York2630119, 316–328Google Scholar
  20. Lemley, M., Reese, R. A. 2004Reducing Digital Copyright Infringement Without Restricting InnovationStanford Law Review5613451434Google Scholar
  21. Lichtman, D., Landes, W. 2003Indirect Liability for Copyright Infringement: An Economic PerspectiveHarvard Journal on Law and Technology16395410Google Scholar
  22. Litman, J. 2001Digital Copyright: Protecting Intellectual Property on the InternetPrometheus BooksAmherst, N.Y.106107Google Scholar
  23. McGowan, D. 2004Copyright NonconsequentialismMissouri Law Review69172Google Scholar
  24. ‘Music’s Brighter Future’, The Economist, Oct. 28, 2004, pp. 71–73.Google Scholar
  25. Nelson, R. R., Winter, S. G. 1982An Evolutionary Theory of Economic ChangeThe Belknap Press of Harvard University PressCambridge, MA128129Google Scholar
  26. Netanel, N. W. 2003Impose a Noncommercial Use Levy to Allow Free Peer-to-Peer File SharingHarvard Journal of Law & Technology17184Google Scholar
  27. Oberholzer-Gee, F. and Strumpf, K.: 2004, ‘The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis’, pp. 1–51.Google Scholar
  28. Picker, R. C. 2003From Edison to the Broadcast Flag: Mechanisms of Consent and Refusal and the Propertization of CopyrightUniversity of Chicago Law Review70281296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rich, G. 1953Infringement Under Section 271 of the Patent Act of 1952George Washington Law Review21521546Google Scholar
  30. Sunstein, C. 1994Incommensurability and Valuation in the LawMichigan Law Review92779861Google Scholar
  31. Szott Moohr, G. 2004The Crime of Copyright Infringement: An Inquiry Based on Morality, Harm, and Criminal TheoryBoston University Law Review83731782Google Scholar
  32. Tehranian, J. 2003All Rights Reserved? Reassessing Copyright and Patent Enforcement in the Digital AgeUniversity of Cincinnati Law Review724594Google Scholar
  33. Wu, T. 2003When Code Isn’t LawVirginia Law Review89679751Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Moritz College of LawThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusU.S.A

Personalised recommendations