Retiring Justice John Paul Stevens’s Impact On IP Law
Pickens writes “Corporate Counsel recounts the profound legacy of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, author of the majority opinion in what some consider the most important copyright ruling of all time — the 1984 Betamax decision (Sony v. Universal City Studios) that established that consumers have a personal ‘fair use’ right to make copies of copyrighted material for non-commercial use. Justice Stevens’s contribution to the ultimate decision in Betamax extended well beyond writing the opinion. The justices’ initial debates in the case make it clear that Stevens was the only one of the nine (PDF) who believed that the ‘fair use’ doctrine gave consumers a right to make personal copies of copyrighted content for home use. It was his negotiating skill that pulled together the five-vote majority allowing home video recorders to be sold and used without interference from copyright holders. An IP litigator is quoted: ‘The ruling that making a single copy for yourself of a broadcast movie was fair use … that was truly huge, and was a point on which the court was deeply divided.’ So the next time you’re TiVo-ing an episode of your favorite show, remember to give a quick thanks to Justice Stevens; and let’s hope that whoever President Obama appoints to replace him will follow in Stevens’s footsteps and defend Fair Use, not corporate copyright interests.” The review also touches on Stevens’s “patent skepticism,” which may be on display when the court delivers its eagerly awaited Bilski ruling.