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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

Fred von Lohmann

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

Thanks to our common law system, every once in awhile a lawsuit isn’t just about the parties to the case. Sometimes the decisions handed down by the courts become rules for the whole nation for years to come. Back in October 2001, I got involved in the MGM v. Grokster case in Los Angeles because it promised to define the border between copyright law and the freedom to innovate for technologists from Microsoft to the next Silicon Valley wunderkind working in his garage.

The case pits the collected might of the global entertainment industries against the developers of peer-to-peer file sharing software. Because P2P has been such a lightning rod of controversy, many in the established technology industry were unwilling to get involved. Because the client was a small software start-up, they couldn’t hope to afford legal help to match the entertainment industry. Fortunately, EFF is in the business of providing free legal services to innovators in cases of special importance. We knew that this wasn’t just a fight about P2P. Instead, it was about bigger a question fundamental to innovators of every stripe: When will a technology innovator be held responsible for misdeeds committed by its end-users?

Getting the answer to this question wrong would have devastating effects on the technology sector of the American economy, and on the freedom to innovate generally. Photocopiers, VCRs, CD burners, personal computers, web browsers—all of these are innovations that the entertainment industries would have vetoed at their genesis, if copyright law allowed it. Fortunately, until now, the law hasn’t given the entertainment giants that kind of veto power. In the MGM v. Grokster case, those same giants were urging the court to change that rule, to make innovators answerable to entertainment executives.

In April 2003, we won the case on behalf of our clients. The appeal is pending today, and the matter may well end up in the Supreme Court. Either way it turns out, it will set the ground rules for technologists for the next round of digital innovation.

Brief Biography

Fred von Lohmann is a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, specializing in intellectual property issues. In that role, he has represented programmers, technology innovators, and individuals in litigation against every major record label, movie studio, and television network (as well as several cable TV networks and music publishers) in the United States. In addition to litigation, he is involved in EFF's efforts to educate policy-makers regarding the proper balance between intellectual property protection and the public interest in fair use, free expression, and innovation.

The EFF matters in which he is involved include: • MGM v. Grokster: representing Streamcast Networks, developers of the Morpheus software application, in a lawsuit brought by 28 entertainment companies alleging that Streamcast should be held liable for the activities of its end-users. • Broadcast Flag and Digital TV: working to represent the voice of consumers and innovators before the FCC and BPDG in the debate over the "broadcast flag," Hollywood's scheme to sneak federally-mandated content protection technology into all digital television devices.

Fred received a 2003 CLAY award (California Lawyer of the Year) from California Lawyer magazine. He was also named one of the 50 Agenda Setters for 2003 by UK publication Silicon.com. He has appeared on CNN, CNBC, ABC's Good Morning America, Fox News O'Reilly Factor, and TechTV's ScreenSavers and has been widely quoted in a variety of publications, including in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Billboard, US News & World Report, CNET News, Wired News, and a number of leading legal newspapers. His opinion pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and San Jose Mercury News.

Before joining EFF, Fred was a visiting researcher with the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, where his research focused on the impact of peer-to-peer (P2P) technologies on the future of copyright. Prior to his research fellowship, Fred was an attorney with the international law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP, concentrating on transactions and counseling involving the Internet and intellectual property.

Fred also served as a law clerk to Chief Judge Thelton Henderson, of the US District Court for Northern California, and Judge Betty B. Fletcher, of the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University.