The title pretty much says it all. The Supreme Court has decided to hear the Grokster case and determine whether P2P companies can be liable for the copyrighted material their users share over their networks. You can read more about it here.
The outcome of this case could cause a major shake up in the world of intellectual property. A ruling against Grokster could mean an end to many if not all P2P services...in their current form at least. Much will depend on how the court delivers the opinion. It will be very interesting how the court determines liability. If only those companies that make a profit from the services will be affected, this could open a window for non-profit P2P programs to still thrive. How much knowledge or intent is needed by the company of the illegal uses of the product. If substantial non-infringing use is still an available buzz word. And how P2P companies are supposed to stop their product if the "horse is out of the barn" argument is true. Will the company be indefinitely liable since the product could be used to share songs or movies in the future that haven't even been thought of yet?
I think the court will construe liability narrowly especially if the Court finds Grokster or other P2P owners cannot stop the product from being used even if they wanted to. Otherwise it would seem the company could be liable indefinitely. I guess there would have to be some sort of settlement to pay off those who are injured and maybe have a fund for those who could be affected at some point in the future. Even if a company such as Grokster went bankrupt it still wouldn't seem to prevent P2P sharing if individuals could still run the program without any oversight by Grokster or another P2P company.
Any favorable ruling for the copyrighted material industries would be at least a huge moral victory and would at least put a kink in the P2P networks. However, I think the only way the music and movie industries will really win is if P2P networks are made illegal. Otherwise you will still have P2P programs out there that are made by people not looking to make a profit off of them and thus you don't have anyone to really sue for mass liability as we do in the Grokster and Kazaa cases. Long term it will still require holding the individual users liable or at least finding a way to curb much of the illegal uses by making legal uses a better alternative.
I think the largest impact won't be from what the ruling itself says, but from the actions that happen in response to the ruling. The largest impacts will likely be more major lawsuits and settlements against other P2P companies if there is a victory for the recording industry. Or Congress will pass some form of legislation on P2P if Grokster wins. Any Congressional rule will either overturn the Grokster decision or it will attack the individual user and then who knows what will happen. Either the Copynorms will change or maybe this could cause such a major outcry that forces Congress to be more P2P friendly. The possibilities are endless at this point. Let's see what the Supreme Court has to say about it first and then the real battles begin.