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RIAA Loses $222K Verdict 342

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the turning-tide dept.
jriding writes "The $222,000 verdict against Jammy Thomas for copyright infringement by P2P is no more. US District Court Judge Michael Davis dismissed the verdict, saying it was based on the faulty 'making available' theory of distribution."
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RIAA Loses $222K Verdict

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  • Good for her (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fewnorms (630720) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @11:11AM (#25152733)
    About time the RIAA loses a big case like this, and have the public know about it. Bunch of crooks...
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @11:15AM (#25152811)

    and get them for attorney's fees and mental anguish.

  • Call me cynical (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LuxMaker (996734) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @11:19AM (#25152865) Journal
    but this is just what the *IAA needs to push through tougher legislation.

    And Judge Davis went further, "implor[ing] Congress to amend the Copyright Act to address liability and damages in peer-to-peer network cases..."

    How many people want to guess that "Copyright reform" turns draconian?

  • Mediasentry issues (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Volante3192 (953645) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @11:21AM (#25152937)

    One point brought up in the articles is that it's possible the MediaSentry downloads are unauthorized copies, which seems to be necessary since if the RIAA authorizes the copy, then technically they're not infringing copyright and hence have to basis for a lawsuit.

    However, if the copies by MediaSentry are not authorized, then by not prosecuting MediaSentry for illicit downloads, aren't they undermining their own case by not going after every case of infringement?

    Just idle thoughts...

  • From TFA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 25, 2008 @11:27AM (#25153015)

    AFAIK (IANAL) a mistrial means that the same evidence and INTENT is used in the prosecution of the defendant. such as:

    "Thomas will face a new trial, in which the RIAA will have to prove actual distribution." (Direct from TFA)

    But it is interesting to note that:

    "The decision means the RIAA now has zero wins at trial, Wired notes." (from TFA)

    So far, it seems that the RIAA is nothing more than a paper tiger, and there is much ado about the nothing that is the reporting of all this hoopla.

    I do seem to remember (can't cite the examples at the moment) some headlines concerning individuals being brought to trial that had unbeliveable judgements levied at them for "copyright infringement", but no ACTUAL culpability against the plaintiff.

  • Re:Technically . . . (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @11:31AM (#25153089)
    In the old days, warez exchangers would require a newbie to send something to them first before sharing anything - something about entrapment if the investigator would do something illegal to gain the marks' trust. The last paragraph of the article mentions that distribution to MediaSentry would constitute infringement - I wonder if P2P networks will be adopting the old "send me one first" mechanism in light of this?
  • RIAA books (Score:2, Interesting)

    by krystar (608153) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @11:31AM (#25153093)
    isn't it awesome to be part of the RIAA though? you get all this money from the record companies and get to use it without any recouping of costs. all they do is spend spend spend. track record for income is ...zilch.
  • CAN (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @11:48AM (#25153343) Journal

    The word is CAN constitute, not DOES constitute. This is what the next trial will most likely be about.

    Granted, most likely it will count because if you sell drugs to a cop you still go to jail. What might still win the case is that mediasentry is NOT a cop.

    Even if mediasentry is allowed to perform the actions of a sworn in police officer, they would still have to proof there method of detection is accurate.

    Further more, if it counts as distribution, so what? They got proof you uploaded it to one person. Big deal. 1 dollar per song, you need to have pretty big share going on to have to worry about that fine.

    Because the really big thing in this judgement is the judge saying that the damages were excessive. That is going to hurt the RIAA the most. This judge EVEN if the case had been been proven would most likely still have lowered the damages. That could seriously hurt the RIAA. Why settle for a couple thousand when the fine is going to be little more? And if the settlement is going to be a couple hundred, how are they going to pay their lawyers?

  • Re:Technically . . . (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RulerOf (975607) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @11:58AM (#25153473)

    it's just not being used against the targets that the writers had in mind when the law was written.

    When MAFIAA agents wrote that bill and lobbied to get it signed, they damn well intended it to be used to ruin the lives of anyone who would later cross their paths, irrespective of any profit motives other than their own.

    The law is irresponsibly unfair and unjust, quite possibly even to the wealthiest and most criminal of piracy enterprises.

  • Re:Technically . . . (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dragoon412 (648209) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @11:58AM (#25153483)

    There's nothing truly unconstitutional about the law

    Actually, that's not entirely true.

    The leading case on the constitutionality of damages is BMW v. Gore. You can read it here [cornell.edu] if you're interested.

    Out of that case came three guideposts that the Supreme Court uses to assess whether or not damages are constitutional.

    1. The degree of reprehensibility of the defendant's conduct
    2. The portion of the damages that are compensatory
    3. Statutory punitive damages/penalties that could be imposed

    So, that the statute allows such damages only satisfies one of the three guideposts. However, punitive damages in this case vastly outstripped the compensatory damages. I remember reading it in an article when the verdict was announced, but the punitive:compensatory damages were, what, on the order of 9000:1? The court has said, in Phillip Morris USA v. Williams, that damages that were only 100:1 punitive:compensatory were "grossly excessive."

    The only issue to be resolved, at this point, is how reprehensible the court finds the defendant's conduct.

    It seems to me that, if this question of damages managed to get before the US Supreme Court, it'd be thrown out as unconstitutional in a hurry.

    But I'm just a law student offering my armchair lawyer analysis. Take the above with a grain of salt.

  • by sabre3999 (1143017) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @12:17PM (#25153763)
    This is true... and I won't say that the amount of the judgment has no importance in regard to future legal dealings with the RIAA. However, the verdict is still the most important aspect of the case since it sets precedent. It would be nice to live in a fantasy world where a not guilty was likely.
  • $222K is NOTHING (Score:3, Interesting)

    by InlawBiker (1124825) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @12:24PM (#25153891)

    OK, Hooray for the small guy!

    But losing small court battles for six-figure judgments is really nothing for these guys. What they got in exchange was thousands of newspaper articles and blogs talking about people being sued for file sharing. The FUD Factory worked! You can't buy that kind of press. Anything under a million is a bargain.

  • Re:So What's Next? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by camperslo (704715) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @12:29PM (#25153983)

    "Thomas will face a new trial, in which the RIAA will have to prove actual distribution"

    Even if they do prove distribution, the claims of damages per track should be fought. It's as if the people involved don't understand how file availability works with torrent p2p sharing.

    If someone downloads 5 tracks and seeds each to 1:1 ratio, what they've sent out on the net has only replaced copies (in pieces and blocks) that they got instead of someone else. In that case the net increase in copies going to others is ZERO making the damages only the lost-sale revenue for the downloader. At 1:1 seeding ratio, no additional copies go to others as compared with what existing seeding on the net would have provided had the downloader not transfered the files in and out. The lost revenue is certainly no higher than the cost of the same tracks on iTMS or another commercial source. It could be argued that the track value is even lower since a portion of the iTMS price covers bandwidth cost so that amount in not lost profits.
    It is only when seeding above 1:1 ratio that a downloader/uploader has actually done something to result in an increased number of copies going to others online over what would have occurred had they not participated. For the entire group of peers, each contributes to distribution by their seeding ratio minus one to allow for availability being reduced by what went to them instead of others.
    It is not reasonable to hold a particular peer responsible for the seeding action of others.

    This discussion also illustrates why torrents die off if people fail to seed adequately.

    Cases of higher damages should be reserved for cases where material not otherwise available is leaked onto the net in violation of a license or NDA that applies, or material an uploader bought under license violates the license and then distributes a measurable number of copies on the net.

  • Re:Technically . . . (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AlexCorn (763954) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @12:37PM (#25154093)
    I was recently considered for jury duty in a cocaine selling/possession case. One of the screening questions the potential jurors were asked was "Do you have any problems with the Indiana drug laws?" I said yes, that they should be repealed. The judge asked if I was capable of making a distinction between what the law said and what I believed. I said yes, of course, and brought up jury nullification. He said that we don't do that anymore, and I was dismissed from jury duty.
  • by Evets (629327) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @12:42PM (#25154165) Homepage Journal

    I caught that too. Since that was in the commentary and not part of the actual ruling, I don't think that's binding at all for the next trial. It certainly isn't binding on any other case.

    Several other courts have addressed the issue and IIRC the vast majority ruled that Media Sentry downloads don't count since they were authorized by the copyright holder.

    As far as the next trial goes, I imagine this will get settled. The jury members' post-trial comments were very much in favor of the RIAA, and Jammie's Lawyer wasn't very effective as a trial attorney from what I read in the coverage.

    A new trial would mean that she has to pay her attorney for more work, and she had to cancel her expert witness because of financial difficulty the last go round.

    For the RIAA, they have the statement in favor of using MediaSentry downloads as evidence. They have a big jury verdict in their favor in the minds of most (assuming this doesn't get the same kind of media coverage as the big award). They aren't going to get much money out of Jammie (blood from a turnip). It seems like it's in their interests to settle this one as well. The potential for losing the next trial should be enough to scare them into being reasonable.

    I bet this turns into a settlement, and that Jammie has a non-disclosure clause for the amount. I'm kind of surprised that didn't happen before this ruling anyhow.

  • by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@gm a i l.com> on Thursday September 25, 2008 @12:49PM (#25154285) Homepage Journal

    mpeaching him now would cause a close examination of all of his unconstitutional policies, and get a lot of them thrown out, or at least dragged out into the light so future presidents won't be able to use them.

    Careful. You might just find that a lot of people would like what was found and that your side would be invariably painted as anti-American. What would happen is, the Nixon effect. Nixon was never really popular until after he was booted from Office. But, once all the stuff that he and Kissinger did became public, a lot of people who are big into national security and winning suddenly found that Nixon was their man after all. He was rehabilated into a "great statesmen", and now he's looked at as a good Cold Warrior. I mean, by the time a lot of the Nixon revelations came out, to some extent, many Democrats would take a look at Carter and say, Nixon would have done something, a perception that helped propel Reagan into the White House. Remember that in early Reagan years they used to actually talk about how he would chat with Nixon and Henry the K in matters of cold war brinkmanship.

    To move that to today, let's say it came out that Bush had the CIA crawling all over New Orleans immediate post Katrina and was assasinating looters, but there was some operational weather problem that wrecked the plan, or that, he had secretly invaded Pakistan and Iran and had actually sabotaged the industrial capacity of any number of nations that were believed to be hiding Bin Laden, he would lock down the center-right base for sure. I mean, if Cheney's secret conversation revealed that Bush saw the coming peak oil, went through a phase of trying to secretly re-open talks with Saddam, but was rebuffed, and -then-, he invaded because Saddam did some covert anti-American thing... then, a lot of people would see the war in an entirely more positive light.

    Similarly, if there did emerge some conspiracy that the struggles of the US financial system were part of a set of financial moves of the US against China or the world, then, Bush comes out ahead, again. Even if he's just paranoid and writing all this stuff down, along with Cheney, Bush comes out ahead.

    I mean, the biggest asset Democrats have on Bush right now is that, they've painted him as stupid. But, if Bush is actually documented to be intelligent but evil, then, a lot more people are going to like him and you'll make a saint out of him.

  • by mea37 (1201159) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @12:55PM (#25154375)

    And if I buy a bootleg DVD, I fetch it from the shelf. Doesn't matter.

    Every file transfer has a sender and a receiver. The sender is (probably, though I suppose we'll see what the courts ultimately say) engaged in distribution, no matter whether the protpcol model was "pull" or "push".

    The more interesting question would be whether, by requesting a copy, an agent of the copyright holder implicitely "approves" the distribution on the copyright holder's behalf. I don't see why that would be the case.

    As I've said before -- I believe this verdict was faulty, and I believe the damages were too high, so on both counts I'm glad to see this outcome... but I also believe that putting a file on a p2p network is more than "just making it available", that doing so (if deliberate) should be punishable under the civil provisions of copyright infringement, and that the law may need to be amended to make it so.

    Remember, "copyright hasn't kept up with technology" does not always mean "copyright is too strong". Both are generally true, but they don't always overlap neatly.

  • No, FUCK the RIAA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Weaselmancer (533834) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @12:59PM (#25154429)

    How dare the RIAA go after individual infringers, even though it's what Slashdotters said they should do back in 2000 during the Napster lawsuit.

    It's all about how you go after them. Jaywalking is illegal. So to stop it, would you mind if we shove a camera up your ass to record where you walk and a set of electrodes on your balls to we can zap you if you look like you might be heading away from the crosswalk?

    I deserve to have people's work for free because I can. Artists are my personal slaves.

    Actually, it's the RIAA that feels that way. Here, read this bit from Steve Albini. [negativland.com] Scroll down to the math part.

    Once you're done, read this. [wikipedia.org]

    You're an industry shill so I know you won't get the point, but there is a point to be made. It's the RIAA that are fucking over the artists you claim to care so desperately about - not the pirates. For every penny lost to piracy the record execs walk away with truckloads of cash. All in the name of "protecting the artist".

    Total bullshit, and you know it.

  • Re:Good for her (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Joe Jay Bee (1151309) <jbsouthsea.gmail@com> on Thursday September 25, 2008 @01:32PM (#25154923)

    Many people (regular, average people) pirate. They would have bought the CD or whatever, but don't because they can get roughly the same thing for free. I've known people like this. Pretending they don't exist does nobody any favours - piracy, quite obviously, does harm the music companies.

    Slashdotters can crow all they want about "distribution monopolies" or whatever being the real reasons, but if they really cared about that they'd be trying to stop indie bands from playing and selling CDs, which they're not - they're trying to stop people taking the stuff they sell for free. They're companies, motivated purely by profit, and they wouldn't pursue action against individual downloaders if it wasn't somehow in their interests.

  • Re:Good for her (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jonny_eh (765306) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @01:40PM (#25155049)

    Why would the Canadian media cover an event that has little effect up here? There's more important things to cover like two elections (US and Canadia) and not to forget the 'next great depression'.

  • Re:Good for her (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 25, 2008 @01:47PM (#25155171)

    what drivel. walmart is not staffed by 200 guys with machineguns. their business model only works because shoplifting is a crime that is artificially enforced by the laws of the land. In other words they can only stay in business thanks to the threat of the state prosecuting people who walk out without paying.

    Get a grip. Just because you want to get free music and reckon you wont get caught doesn't mean you should advocate widespread anarchy in order to justify it.

  • Re:Good for her (Score:5, Interesting)

    by orclevegam (940336) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @01:58PM (#25155349) Journal
    Ok, fine, we'll see if we can tighten up the math a bit. To start with, according to a article on /. from a while back, the RIAA since 2003 has filed 28000 lawsuits [slashdot.org]. According to this PDF [adrforum.com] I found based on public available tax data, court records, and a bit of extrapolation it costs an average of 3112.26 per case to bring a civil case to trial in NJ (assuming similar cost in other states). This figure does not take into account the costs to both parties in terms of legal fees, and costs involved in maintaining the buildings, hiring more people to handle extra case load, or social cost involved in displacing other court cases. The same PDF also lists the average cost for settling via arbitration to be 1296.81 per case.

    Lets assume that 75% of the cases are settled out of court (I've no idea how many have actually gone to trial of the 28000). This gives us 21000 settlements, and 7000 trials. Lets also assume that it costs on average 20000 to hire a defense lawyer (and that's probably at the low end). Based on these numbers we come to the following totals:

    Cost to the public to settle cases: 27,233,010 (not including infrastructure costs)
    Cost to the public to prosecute cases: 21,785,820 (once again not including infrastructure costs)
    Total taxes wasted: 49,018,830
    Cost to defend against RIAA lawsuits: 140,000,000
    Cost to settle against RIAA lawsuits (based on $3000 settlement): 63,000,000
    Total cost to public and accused: 252,018,830

    In addition each of these cases must of necessity displace other cases that could be utilizing the courts time. I don't know about you, but I consider it a bigger crime for a company to waste 49 million dollars of the publics tax money, than that same company to lose 200 million to people subverting it's dying business model, not to mention costing people 203 million to defend themselves (or settle), a great many of which will be innocent people.
  • Re:Today is nice (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Bobfrankly1 (1043848) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @02:18PM (#25155641)
    no, I predict Jack Thompson will be disbarred today...
  • Re:Good for her (Score:2, Interesting)

    by knifeNINJA (1369861) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @02:19PM (#25155659)

    they wouldn't pursue action against individual downloaders if it wasn't somehow in their interests.

    I agree, and I believe that's exactly the problem here. IMHO the RIAA abuses the legal system, but I'm not aware of any compelling reason for them not to abuse it (e.g. heavy fines). Sure, it's bad for the RIAA's image, but does the average person really know who the members [riaa.com] are? Plus, there's nothing stopping the members from tossing out the RIAA and creating another name to hide behind.

    They would have bought the CD or whatever

    [citation needed]

  • Re:No, FUCK the RIAA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Weaselmancer (533834) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @02:33PM (#25155875)

    They're filing lawsuits against copyright infringers

    No they're not. Someone "making available" hasn't done anything wrong. Or maybe you're too fucking clueless to understand Judge Michael Davis' conclusion. If I leave a TV on my patio and it gets stolen, am I partially responsible for the theft since I made my TV easily available?

    Guess what, bucko. I'm not. And the judge agrees.

    My favorite aspect of pro-piracy Slashdotters

    Feel free to re-read my post and see where I'm pro piracy. You won't find anything saying that because I'm not.

    What I am is pro due process. And I'm against an industry trying to gain police powers to prop up their broken business model. If you need senators to make laws saying that you have to buy a buggy whip with the purchase of every new car - then it might be your product you're trying to sell that's the problem.

    Nobody needs the RIAA anymore. In the digital age they're a dinosaur.

    IF THE RIAA IS FUCKING OVER ARTISTS, HOW IS YOU PIRATING THEIR MUSIC GOING TO HELP THEM?

    I'm not funding the people who are using that money to fuck them over. I don't pirate - I just simply don't buy any music. That's my solution.

    It's the least I can do for them. Also totally legal.

    You use morality plays like "the RIAA is evil and screws over artists" to distract people from what you're doing. Period.

    Ignoring the "you're an evul pirate OMG" part of your post, let's turn the tables a bit.

    Defend what the RIAA is doing. If they're the good guys, tell me why you think so. Go ahead and refute that article from Mr. Albini. Don't just lay on with the ad hominem - refute my thesis. Poke holes in my argument.

    "The RIAA are a useless dinosaur sitting on top of the music industry sucking up money, stifling personal freedom and established fair use with frivolous and lawsuits and lobbying for orwellian laws to prop up their broken business model, crushing both the artist and consumer alike in a grab for cash to continue their own existence."

    Good luck.

    Signed,
    Summer Glau

  • by DamnStupidElf (649844) <Fingolfin@linuxmail.org> on Thursday September 25, 2008 @03:26PM (#25156785)

    The existence of piracy does not magically give me an extra $200 a year that I could have spent on music or movies. I have the same amount of money I did last year (or less, with the wild inflation), so the MAFIAA would get roughly the same amount of money from me whether or not I could pirate things.

    Via piracy I can never view every single movie ever made, or every song ever produced, which means that if I happen to see a few movies this year that I couldn't have afforded otherwise, it will *not* cut into the amount of money I'll spend next year on music and movies.

  • Re:Charge her $24 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AK Marc (707885) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @04:43PM (#25158001)
    While $222,000 is a stupid amount, she's either innocent (or within fair use) or she's guilty and needs to pay a significant fine.

    She "stole" $20 worth of stuff. Fines of even 3 times the actual damages have been found to be excessive (like Exxon's fine for the spill). So she should pay a significant fine of three to four times the value of the items, which would still be less than $100.
  • Re:Good for her (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @07:48PM (#25159989)

    They're companies, motivated purely by profit, and they wouldn't pursue action against individual downloaders if it wasn't somehow in their interests.

    That'd be great, if they were actually pursuing people based on actual 'piracy'. They're not. They're pursuing people out of the fear that they might not pay them money. If you'd like some interesting reading, look up the movie industry's view on VHS sales of movies back in the early 80s. You'll find that they were against it, claiming casual copying would destroy peoples' interest in going to the theater. Go back to roughly the year 2000, you'll see Eisner criticizing Apple's "Rip, Mix, and Burn" campaign. That was actually kinda funny. Apple had a commercial of a dude on a plane taking his music collection and burning his own CD. Eisner said it was a pro-piracy campaign, but the commercial didn't show the guy handing the CD to anybody. It was just assumed Apple meant for you to run out, buy a CD, then ... and I don't understand the logic here ... make copies and give them to all your friends. You'd also find that they made claims like '2 billion songs were flying around the net every month' just before announcing an increase of profits.

    They're not seeing a million dollars missing and are combating losing another million. They're seeing 300 million people who'd crawl on their bellies over broken glass with their flies unzipped to avoid paying for a CD. They also see a shift in demand from CD albums to a-la-carte music (like iTunes). Not as lucrative. Oops.

    If music piracy were really a profit-related problem, they could substantiate it. Instead, they're propagandizing it. Think about it.

  • Re:Good for her (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shark72 (702619) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @08:50PM (#25160519)

    You might be unintentionally putting words in my mouth. I profess to no knowledge or even a wild guess as to how many outbound bytes those songs in her share directory... I was simply clarifying that the copyright owners and authorities tend to go after copiers and distributors. I've heard the opinion that downloading is fixing to a permanent medium, but I personally don't buy it. Copyright law focuses on reproduction and distribution... I don't believe there are any statutes related to possession of pirated works per se. For those of you speed-reading, NB that I didn't write "pirated works for sale" or "distributing pirated works."

    "So yeah, it's not what people are being sued for but it would also be dishonest to claim it was clearly legal."

    Agreed. Many Slashdotters believe and/or wish that her actions were clearly legal, but Slashdotters are often at odds with legal experts. One thing that many folks don't understand is that the law is a living, breathing organism that sometimes moves slowly, and sometimes moves quickly. Sometimes it hurts people, too, so the best analogy for Slashdotters is that law is like the horta from that Star Trek episode.

    At any rate, "making available != infringement" is a nice, tasty loophole, and loopholes like that don't last. If I were the sort that doffed an eyepatch and a parrot, I would not treat this news as permission share my music collection with Kazaa.

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