Can The Government Use The Term 'Music Piracy' In A Criminal Copyright Trial?

from the apparently dept

Via Michael Scott, we learn that there was recently a debate over whether or not the government could use the phrase "music piracy" to describe the actions of an individual who had been charged with criminal copyright infringement. The case involved Adil Cassim, who had been arrested last year and charged with running a "release group," which are the private networks of people online who work hard to get unauthorized copyrighted materials (music, movies, etc.) distributed as quickly as possible. While Cassim was apparently acquitted by the jury (so far, I can't find any more info on what happened... Update: TorrentFreak has some details), there was a discussion over how the gov't could refer to his actions. His lawyer argued that "music piracy" is a prejudicial term, not related to the issues in the lawsuit, and that the gov't should not be allowed to use that term in front of the jury. The judge denied this:
Defendants seeks to exclude any use of the terms "music piracy" from the jury. They argue that this term is not evidentiary, has no probative value, and is highly inflammatory such that it will create undue prejudice. The Government, in response, argues that this term would be highly probative of the Defendants' knowledge of the unlawful object of the conspiracy. The Court finds that, because this term was and is commonly used to refer to the conduct in question, it will be difficult for witnesses and lawyers to generate an adequate substitute during questioning. It need not, therefore, be entirely excluded. However, the Court invites counsel for Defendants to suggest any possible limiting instructions which, if offered to the jury, might mitigate any possible prejudice that the term might create.
However, as Ray Dowd points out in the link above, this doesn't seem to make much sense. The word piracy is not in the statute, and the crime he's charged with is criminal copyright infringement, not piracy, so there's no reason that the proper terms can't be used:
I have litigated many copyright infringement cases without the need to refer to the word "piracy" though as a civil plaintiff it is a nice synonym referring to a person who makes multiple exact duplicates, rather than someone who borrowed portions of a copyrighted work. But it certainly is not necessary in a civil proceeding and would appear to me to be highly improper to use in a criminal proceeding.
Of course, since the guy was acquitted anyway, perhaps the entertainment industry is correct that "piracy" isn't derogatory enough anymore.
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Filed Under: adil cassim, copyright, copyright act, criminal copyright infringement, music piracy, release group

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2010 @ 10:47am

    This statement is a joke, right?

    "However, as Ray Dowd points out in the link above, this doesn't seem to make much sense. The word piracy is not in the statute, and the crime he's charged with is criminal copyright infringement, not piracy, so there's no reason that the proper terms can't be used..."

    Mike, you are a really bright guy, so either you were just trying to provoke conversation, or being sarcastic, or something, but you could not have been serious.

    During trials both sides choose words that put the other side into the worst light possible. In many cases the statutory language is almost never used.

    Which sounds worse?

    You honor, the defendant committed a tertiary infraction (statutory language), leading to a hazardous act, in which property damage and injuries occurred (statutory language).

    This language is pretty much used in statutes. How often is it really used? Contrast that with what the state's attorney actually said:

    You honor, the defendant blew through a stop sign (non-statutory, but certainly descriptive) at an estimated 38 miles per hour, slamming into a vehicle that had legally entered the intersection under the speed limit, causing the vehicle to be completely demolished (non-statutory language) and severely injuring the driver and passenger of that vehicle, causing bruising, a neck injury, a broken arm and massive amounts of fear and anxiety (non-statutory language).

    As long as the description is reasonably accurate, why should anyone, either the prosecution or the defendant, be limited to statutory langage? Even if you did that, all the side that benefits from non-statutory language would do is spend a ton of time defining what the statutory language means so that us commoners could understand it, and then they would use it anyway.

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