Taming the Wild Web

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More than a century ago, lawlessness in parts of our country was replaced by the rule of law, and theft by legitimate commerce. The Wild West became a settled and well governed part of our country, and the result was economic stability and growth.

Today, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the MGM v. Grokster file-sharing case, we are on the cusp of a similar transformation in the world of digital media. We can begin to see the day when the World Wide Web is no longer a Wild Wild West of unlawful behavior.

No compromise is perfect. But in MGM v. Grokster, the Supreme Court found a reasonable balance between the imperatives of protecting creativity and encouraging innovation. The justices upheld the principles that enable new innovations to flourish. At the same time, they recognized that a company that promotes the use of its products to infringe copyrights is liable for the resulting acts of infringement. We believe this balance will pave the way for new commercial ventures that benefit media companies, software developers, technology innovators—and the customers they all share.

Consumers have heard promises of an exciting digital age to come, when new technologies will give them access to a wealth of entertainment and information on their terms. Consumers want choice, convenience and customization, and this is what digital technology can deliver.

In the new post-Grokster era, we envision a robust period of investment and calculated risk-taking that will make the dream of “anytime, anywhere” digital entertainment and information a reality.

Certainly, that’s our goal at NBC Universal and Microsoft. One of us is actively creating a wealth of content, which we are eager to deliver to customers in new ways at a fair price. The other is an innovator of technology with a commitment to enabling safe and secure access to this content in compelling new ways.

Piracy will never completely disappear. But we are confident that the vast majority of Americans will welcome having affordable and legal alternatives to unsafe and illegal digital downloads.

We urge our fellow media creators, owners and distributors; technology and software companies; and consumer-electronics manufacturers to join us in a concerted, focused drive to give consumers the digital access they want and copyright owners the protections they need, so that the long-deferred marriage of technology and content can finally take place.

Ultimately, much more than the health of the media and technology industries is at stake. Intellectual-property–based industries constitute the single largest sector of the U.S. economy and are responsible for a disproportionate amount of our nation’s economic growth—nearly 40% by some estimates. So actions like the Supreme Court’s Grokster ruling and the president’s creation recently of a senior position within the U.S. Department of Commerce to help enforce international intellectual-property laws and treaties should be welcomed by every American who has an interest in our nation’s ongoing competitiveness and prosperity.