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, 23 Sep 2010 @ 10:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I just reread Judge Gertner's decision and noted my above comment does contain a significant error. Specifically, she did not hold statutory damages unconstitutional, but rather held that the jury award was unconstitutionally excessive (relying upon the Due Process Clause). Hence, she lowered the jury verdict to a number that was at the lower range of the statutory damages clause (about $2250/infringed song), a number that she admitted was somewhat arbitrary...but in her view had at least some basis derived from prior cases in matters other than copyright infringement (e.g., Williams, Gore).

    Curiously, part of her thought process was based upon some of the current means by which Tennenbaum could legally obtain songs. Unfortunately, this bears no relationship to the timeframe applicable to Tennenbaum's infringing activities. Moreover, it seems as if she limited her holding to just damages associated with "copying", and gave no consideration to damages associated with "distributing".

    All in all, a strange decision that can only be interpreted to mean that she "punted" the issue to the Court of Appeals, figuring it was best to let it sort things out. It will be interesting, to say the least, how the court will address her notion of "due process" versus that of the plaintiffs and the DOJ.

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