Court Denies Innocent Infringement Defense To Teen For Sharing Music

from the reasonable? dept

You may recall a few years back that a teenager, Whitney Harper, who was getting sued by the record labels/RIAA for file sharing, claimed that the amount she should have to pay up should be less than the $750 statutory minimum, because she was an "innocent infringer," unaware that what she was doing in listening to music was against the law. In fact, she didn't even realize she was sharing files, but thought she was just listening to music, like radio. Surprisingly, the lower court actually agreed with her and said that $200 per song (for the 37 songs) was an appropriate amount. But, of course, the RIAA appealed, as (despite claims to the contrary in the Tenenbaum and Thomas-Rasset case) they need those huge potential amounts to use as a sledge hammer against file sharers. Unfortunately, an appeals court has overturned the lower court ruling, and said that the statutory minimum of $750 per infringement should apply -- saying that the innocent infringement defense isn't applicable because the CDs the music came on (which she never saw) had proper copyright notices.

As you may know, copyright law does allow for reduced statutory damages on innocent infringement, "where the infringer sustains the burden of proving . . . that [she] was not aware and had no reason to believe that . . . her acts constituted an infringement of copyright." Given the details of this case, that seemed to apply -- but the appeals court was having none of it. In the decision, it argues that the law says an innocent infringer defense cannot be applied (with one exception irrelevant to this case) if a proper copyright notice "appears on the published . . . phonorecords to which a defendant . . . had access."

The court the says that because copyright notices are found regularly on CDs, then Harper effectively "had access" to those recordings, at least enough to know they were covered by copyright. Not surprisingly, I find this argument to be quite troubling. If we assume it is accurate that Harper was using LimeWire as if it were a radio to listen to music, then how would she know that she was violating the copyright on the recordings at all? Would someone listening to the radio know? What about someone listening to Pandora or Spotify. Based on this ruling, anyone can be put at risk of much larger statutory damages for copyright if they simply don't know if the online streaming service they're using has properly cleared the copyrights. That does not seem like a conclusion that makes sense, or would have been intended by Congress. Did Congress really intend for each user to do the research before using any online music service to make sure those services had properly cleared the copyrights?

Filed Under: copyright, innocent infringement, statutory damages, whitney harper


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  1. identicon
    Fin, 28 Feb 2010 @ 6:24am

    @ Clint Bradford

    @ Clint Bradford

    "Stealing is stealing. Would you sneak into your local book store, pocket a few books, and leave without paying?"

    Is that all you got? That's like claiming at Pharyngula dinosaurs walked the earth along Adam and Eve. If you're going to be the new RIAA shill here you need to do some homework.

    stealing - you lose your copy.
    sharing - we both have it.

    And btw, it's called infringement, not stealing. Were you lying or just ignorant?

    Try answering this. I bought the LP, the tape, the CD and the remastered CD. I think someone owes me some money back since I paid for the right to listen to the same shit several times.

    What about all the CDs I bought without having the right to listen to them before buying? There was a time when music stores did not have any previews at all. I remember because I bought many discs that ended up being totall crap with only one good song. If you buy a stereo system and you don't like it you can return it. Money back and no questions asked. Why is a CD different? We've all been ripped off after buying CDs we didn't like. Again, someone owes us a lot of money!

    I was waiting for Mickey Mouse to enter public domain. As luck would have it, when it was about to happen the maffia bought the politicians, rewrote the law and made an extension. No public domain for Mickey. Nice, huh?

    So if you're only go by the law when it favours you and change it accordingly because you have the power then I'm entitled to fuck you over. It's a two way street.

    The copyright and "intellectual" property maximalists are the scum of the eath. They are the reason culture is a load of crap. Britney Spears, boys bands, corporate rock and drag queen Ga Ga. None of that would have happend before copyright.

    The sooner we get rid of them the better.

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