Supreme Court Apparently Interested In 'Innocent Infringer' RIAA Case

from the this-could-get-interesting dept

We've been covering the Whitney Harper "innocent infringement" case for a while now. Harper, as a teenager, was sued in one of the tens of thousands of RIAA lawsuits, for sharing some music via Limewire. US copyright law has a provision for "innocent infringement," where it lets you lower the statutory award amounts from a minimum of $750 down to $200. Harper made the case that she was unaware that sharing music via Limewire was unauthorized, as it seemed just like an online radio to her. While the district court sided with Harper in saying that it was innocent infringement, the record labels appealed and the appeals court reversed, claiming that because the CD cases of the music in question had proper copyright notices, Harper was properly notified... even though she never saw those cases.

Harper appealed to the Supreme Court earlier this year. At the time, I noted that while this is an important issue, I doubted the Supreme Court would hear the case. However, indicating a fair bit of interest, the Court has asked the RIAA to respond to Harper's appeal -- which generally indicates serious interest in potentially taking the case. According to Wired, the court normally agrees to hear less than 1% of appeals, but if it requests more info on a petition, then it tends to take 34% of those cases. Still long odds, but a lot more likely...

Filed Under: copyright, innocent infringement, supreme court, whitney harper


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Sep 2010 @ 11:02am

    Importantly, the district court did not hold that the defendant was an innocent infringer. What it did hold was that the defendant was entitled to present innocent infringement as a defense that if proven would have reduced damages from the $750 minimum to a $200 minimum.

    Since the plaintiff (a record label, and not the RIAA) was willing to accept the $200 minimum even without innocent infringement having been established, why the defendant chose to file an appeal with the Fifth Circuit makes not a whit of sense.

    If the Supreme Court grants cert and the case is set for argument, all this would do is return the case to the Fifth Circuit, which would likely then return it to the district court. Now being able to assert a defense of innocent infringement, if the defendant is successful in doing so her payment for damages would be reduced to not less than $200 per infringement...precisely where she was when the district court originally decided her case.

    My guess what is happening? Defendant's counsel came into the lawsuit late in the game, the opportunity to argue against the constitutionality of statutory damages was long past, the appeal was taken in the hope that the Fifth Circuit would reverse the district court, the case would eventually be remanded to the district court, and then the attorney would leave no stone unturned trying to get the district court to agree that the constitutionality of statutory damages should be ruled upon.

    This case is most certainly not about the defendant. It is about a group of attorneys using the case as a pretext for arguing the constitutionality of statutory damages.

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