Supreme Court Won't Hear Innocent Infringer Case, Though Alito Thinks It Should

from the pay-attention dept

This is hardly a surprise. Since Whitney Harper lost the appeal in her fight against the RIAA, claiming that statutory rates should be lowered to $200 (from a minimum of $750) as she was an “innocent infringer” (something which the law allows), we noted that it was unlikely the Supreme Court would hear the case. Even after the Supreme Court asked the RIAA for more info, we still noted that it was a long shot. So, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Supreme Court has refused to hear the case.

If you don’t recall, the issue is whether or not Harper qualifies as an innocent infringer under the law. Her argument was that she believed file sharing was similar to radio and never saw any indication that she was infringing on anyone’s copyright. The appeals court, oddly, ruled that the copyright notice on CDs was enough — even though Harper never saw any of the CDs in question. This seemed like an odd ruling, though perhaps not a big enough issue for the Supreme Court to care about.

What’s interesting is that at least one Justice, Samuel Alito, actually did want to hear the case and appears to agree that Harper had a really strong case:

In explaining his position, Alito appeared to agree with Harper saying there is a “strong argument” that the current law does not apply to downloaded digital music files. “[A] person who downloads a digital music file generally does not see any material object bearing a copyright notice, and accordingly there is force to the argument that [current law] does not apply.”

I hadn’t heard Alito opine on anything related to cppyright law before, so this is interesting. There hasn’t been a big copyright case to hit the Supreme Court in a while, and there are a lot of new Justices on the court since cases like Eldred and Grokster. If there are some Justices who actually recognize that the law doesn’t seem to weigh what the industry keeps insisting it says, things could get quite interesting…

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Companies: riaa

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Comments on “Supreme Court Won't Hear Innocent Infringer Case, Though Alito Thinks It Should”

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Looks like the Supreme Court is afraid of actually having to make a decision that could negatively impact their corporate masters.

Eh. I don’t buy that at all. The Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, and for the most part not influenced by corporations. Don’t confuse Congress with the Supreme Court.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:

Eh. I don’t buy that at all. The Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, and for the most part not influenced by corporations. Don’t confuse Congress with the Supreme Court.

Yes, but what would happen in Washington if the Supreme Court were to turn out a decision that negatively affected the entertainment industry’s hold over copyright law? They don’t want to take on a case where there’s a possibility that their ruling might end up setting a precedent that would torpedo a great many copyright lawsuits and incur the wrath of the entertainment industry.

average_joe says:

Justice Alito shut down Attorney Kiwi Camara’s fabricated circuit split: “Although there are now no conflicting Circuit decisions, I would grant review in this case because not many cases presenting this issue are likely to reach the Courts of Appeals.” Cracked me up. There is no circuit split.

Alito’s dissent in full is here:

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

There is more to this...

While I will not disagree that file sharing has definitely had a negative impact on the sales of CDs, I think that Whitney Harpers defense is very interesting, in that it shows a definite shift in thinking among younger people.

She thought file sharing was like listening to the radio. That statement should send chills down the spines of everyone in the RIAA. That one statement says much more than she is an innocent infringer.

If the thought is that file sharing is like listening to the radio, that just says that as consumers, we prefer to have some choice in how we listen to music and we now see the net as a channel for getting that music. We do not see file sharing as piracy and we do not see ourselves as criminals.

If file sharing is perceived as listening to the radio, then that means that most of those “pirates” out there are still viable consumers for the music industry, since I don’t remember radio killing the music industry with all it’s free music. They just won’t buy as many CDs. So the RIAA can go on attacking the file sharers ( who are potentially customers ) and file sharing sites (in their attempt to censor the net), but just like the US and its idiotic War on Terrorism, the RIAA is waging a war on a shift in thinking and the technology that enables it.

One last point. I know the War on Terrorism remark is gunna piss some people off, but I do have an alternative plan. Im thinking the US and it’s allies would be much safer if they waged a War on Poverty.

Terada (profile) says:

Sucks that the RIAA cases are still in the news. I really hope that they are losing money over these stupid lawsuits. There was no need to sue that many people and they have made their point already. Let the girl pay the $200 per song fine. She learned her lesson.

As for the Supreme Court, I’m surprised that Alito wants to hear this case. I do think it is possible to claim ignorance as a defense considering how many computer illiterate people there are in the world including some of the justices. There was a poll about this a few hours ago, I still think it is wrong to sue a 16 year old for downloading a few songs when there are people out there seeding thousands of them. But in this case, I read somewhere else that she shared music for a few years before getting sued. Ignorance doesn’t work that well in her case.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re:

She probably has also been listening to music for many years as well. I don’t think she has been fined for that activity.

In fact, she probably reasons that sharing of information is how you promote the progress and maintain a strong democracy (and is crucial to it), and the Internet has enabled progress to a new degree if we don’t shunt it. She might even have heard that the value of sharing of information is stamped in the Constitution (recognized in the “to promote the progress” criteria and in the First Amendment). Sharing is key to learning and evolution. Sharing of information is tough in school since kindergarten, which by the way is no charge.

Copyright law is outdated. It’s now very inexpensive to share and hence there is now a much higher opportunity cost to society to adding hurdles to sharing. In particular, copyright appears no longer to be about which major publisher is the one that gets access to the profits from running their presses at the behest of the author (nor about preventing publishers from cutting the author out of profits or opportunity) but about whether you enable the Internet’s efficiencies to even exist. The author him/herself no longer requires as much leverage over major publishers in order to monetize his/her writings and share them.

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