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The Courts Music Piracy

Supreme Court May Tune In To Music Download Case 339

Posted by samzenpus
from the from-on-high dept.
droopus writes "The US Supreme Court is weighing into the first RIAA file-sharing case to reach its docket, requesting that the music labels' litigation arm respond to a case testing the so-called 'innocent infringer' defense to copyright infringement. The case pending before the justices concerns a federal appeals court's February decision ordering a university student to pay the Recording Industry Association of America $27,750 — $750 a track — for file-sharing 37 songs when she was a high school cheerleader. The appeals court decision reversed a Texas federal judge who, after concluding the youngster was an innocent infringer, ordered defendant Whitney Harper to pay $7,400 — or $200 per song. That's an amount well below the standard $750 fine required under the Copyright act. Harper is among the estimated 20,000 individuals the RIAA has sued for file-sharing music. The RIAA has decried Harper as 'vexatious,' because of her relentless legal jockeying."
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Supreme Court May Tune In To Music Download Case

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  • Re:Look (Score:4, Informative)

    by mark72005 (1233572) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @12:38PM (#33665494)
    I think it's intended to be punitive.
  • Re:Look (Score:4, Informative)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @12:59PM (#33665842) Homepage Journal

    Psystar was also ordered to pay Apple's legal fees. Furthermore, the exact penalty for infringement was likely lower because Apple did not register their copyright on OS X with the Copyright Office. By law, a plaintiff that does not have a registered copyright is limited to collecting actual damages, while those who register their copyrights can collect punitive damages. (I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice)

  • Re:Look (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:16PM (#33666134)

    The case of McDonalds v. the Coffee in Lap Lady for example.McDs appealed the million plus dollar ruling and had it reduced to $300,000. The Supreme Court decided it was excessive to award over a million for her injuries.

    No they did not. It was the trial judge who reduced the punitive damages (from 2.7 million dollars to 480,000), and while McDonalds did appeal, as did Liebeck, they eventually settled out of court anyway.

    I hope your professor didn't teach you the facts of this case, because he got it wrong. Also...the jury in the case decided their punitive damages based on 2 days worth of McDonalds coffee sales. Ironic, no?

  • Re:Look (Score:4, Informative)

    by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:21PM (#33666212) Homepage Journal
    I thought with the PyStar case that PyStar had actually bought the copies of the OS off of the shelf, so Apple couldn't hit them for the full cost of the software. They ended up having to go with a much less effective "breaking the EULA on 750 copies of the software" case instead, which is why the judgement in that part was so low. Of course Apple was able to nail them with the DMCA violations instead, which have much sharper teeth because it was written by the recording industry.
  • Re:Look (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:25PM (#33666274)
    It's illegal and it's wrong. There is a difference, but both are true here.
  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:26PM (#33666286) Homepage

    I really had to read this for myself:

    US Copyright Law: Chapter 5. Statutory damages [copyright.gov]

    (1) Except as provided by clause (2) of this subsection, the copyright owner may elect, at any time before final judgment is rendered, to recover, instead of actual damages and profits, an award of statutory damages for all infringements involved in the action, with respect to any one work, for which any one infringer is liable individually, or for which any two or more infringers are liable jointly and severally, in a sum of not less than $750 or more than $30,000 as the court considers just. For the purposes of this subsection, all the parts of a compilation or derivative work constitute one work.

    (2) In a case where the copyright owner sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds, that infringement was committed willfully, the court in its discretion may increase the award of statutory damages to a sum of not more than $150,000. In a case where the infringer sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds, that such infringer was not aware and had no reason to believe that his or her acts constituted an infringement of copyright, the court in its discretion may reduce the award of statutory damages to a sum of not less than $200. The court shall remit statutory damages in any case where an infringer believed and had reasonable grounds for believing that his or her use of the copyrighted work was a fair use under section 107, if the infringer was: (i) an employee or agent of a nonprofit educational institution, library, or archives acting within the scope of his or her employment who, or such institution, library, or archives itself, which infringed by reproducing the work in copies or phonorecords; or (ii) a public broadcasting entity which or a person who, as a regular part of the nonprofit activities of a public broadcasting entity (as defined in subsection (g) of section 118) infringed by performing a published nondramatic literary work or by reproducing a transmission program embodying a performance of such a work.

    (Watch me get sued for copying legal text verbatim)

    Some thoughts:
    - This is all at the discretion of the judge.
    - The $200 seems to apply per copyright infringement charge. But what is that unit really? Naturally, the RIAA would say "per song" but even $200 per album seems extreme. Per song? What if a 30-second clip is enough to be a copyright infringement. Can the RIAA claim that a 2 minute song is 4 30-second infringements so that is $200 * 4 = $800? Or... is a 35 second song really 5 overlapping infringements of 30-second clips so that's $200 * 5 = $1000. I don't think this is what the authors of the law intended. Could you even buy individual tracks when this law was written?

  • by davev2.0 (1873518) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:30PM (#33666358)

    The appeals court decision reversed a Texas federal judge who, after concluding the youngster was an innocent infringer, ordered defendant Whitney Harper to pay $7,400 - or $200 per song. That's an amount well below the standard $750 fine required under the Copyright act.

    The judge found her an innocent infringer, which means the judge believes she didn't understand that what she was doing was illegal. That kicks in USC 17 504.C.2 which states:

    In a case where the infringer sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds, that such infringer was not aware and had no reason to believe that his or her acts constituted an infringement of copyright, the court in its discretion may reduce the award of statutory damages to a sum of not less than $200.

    The judge gave her the miminum fine for what he determined to be the truth of the case. The $750 is the minimum award for a finding of willful infringement and so his award is not well below anything.

  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:45PM (#33666570)

    Messing with a pretty white cheerleader with Republican parents, in Texas?

    As Texans, they'll want to shoot someone to protect their daughter. As Republicans, they want to fuck people over to cater to big business.

    This conflict will cause their heads to implode.

  • Re:Look (Score:5, Informative)

    by mark72005 (1233572) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:46PM (#33666592)
    Corporations don't buy $10k an hour lawyers to work their legal issues. They retain a firm for millions a year.
  • Re:Look (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dashiva Dan (1786136) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:53PM (#33666686)
    RTFA, for crying out loud.
    She didn't "not realise it was illegal". She didn't realise the files were being shared at all.
    At least, that is the reason for the current state of the case
    Truthfulness is for the jury to decide, but it didn't seem like that claim was being contested, although the article didn't go into it.
  • Re:Look (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:53PM (#33666692)

    The problem is the GP is wrong and these aren't punitive damages. This is purely the statutory damages for copyright infringement.

  • Re:Look (Score:5, Informative)

    by NewYorkCountryLawyer (912032) <ray.beckermanlegal@com> on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:57PM (#33666746) Homepage Journal

    Ignorance is no excuse, and all of that, but I really think we'll start to see more of this. As filesharing becomes easier on the user's end, how is a new/naive/young user supposed to know it's illegal?

    The law is quite explicit that if a person did not know they were infringing a copyright, then they are an innocent infringer, and the statutory damages are limited, unless... there was a copyright notice on the thing they were infringing. Then they don't qualify for the defense.

    The 5th Circuit erroneously held that she is precluded from the defense because some other copy somewhere, which she had never seen, had a copyright notice.

    Its ruling was ridiculous.

  • Re:Look (Score:4, Informative)

    by NewYorkCountryLawyer (912032) <ray.beckermanlegal@com> on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:59PM (#33666780) Homepage Journal

    I agree the sum awarded is excessive. If she appealed that in the Supreme Court she can get it reduced as the Constitution does place a 'reasonable amount' on damages and fines.

    I agree that the $750 per mp3 file statutory damages award is constitutionally excessive, and should be struck down. However, that issue does not appear to be presented in connection with this particular appeal.

  • by NewYorkCountryLawyer (912032) <ray.beckermanlegal@com> on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:03PM (#33666812) Homepage Journal

    Well, yes and no. The RIAA's position is that her petition has been already asked and answered by the courts, twice.

    In the first place, that would be irrelevant; that's what appeals are for, to correct mistakes by the lower court.

    In the second place, the lower court ruled in Ms. Harper's favor on this issue. The District Judge ruled that she was NOT disqualified from asserting an innocent infringement defense by reason of copyright notices being affixed to some copies in some record store somewhere, which she had never seen.

  • Re:Look (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:08PM (#33666878)

    Treasury notes? The treasury hasn't issued notes since 1971. Federal Reserve notes are the only legal tender in the US, and as fiat currency, they may be printed at will.
     
    I can see why you were modded funny.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:21PM (#33667090)

    The standard generalization is that conservatives like the 2nd Amendment, the restrictions-on-eminent-domain part of the 5th amendment, and sometimes the 1st; while liberals like the 4th amendment, the criminal-defendant-rights part of the 5th amendment, the 6th, 7th, and 8th, and sometimes the 1st.

  • Re:Look (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:29PM (#33667196) Journal

    This however is not a punitive damage award, but a statutory damage

    You seem confused about the terminology. Punitive damages can be statutory. The opposite of punitive is compensatory. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the person committing the act, compensatory damages are awarded to compensate the victim. Often, compensatory damages are linked to actual damages (i.e. the prosecution must show that they were harmed to the amount of $n to be awarded $n of compensation). Punitive damages may award either a fixed amount or some multiple of $n, to act as a deterrent and a punishment.

    Statutory damages are simply those that have their amount defined in the statute. Some statutory damages are almost always punitive, although they may be compensatory in some cases where it is difficult to assess the amount of actual financial damage. In this case, they are clearly punitive, because the RIAA is not being compensated for losing $750/track as a result of the infringement.

  • Re:Look (Score:3, Informative)

    by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @03:48PM (#33668300)

    Oh, I see what you're getting at. Punitive damages go to the wronged party. That's a matter of legal precedent. Logic has no basis in law.

    If it doesn't go to the plantiff, then it has to go to a third party. Who would that be? The choices are a non-profit, a charity, or the state. Or, we could pitch the idea of punitve damages awarded against people and only enforce those damages against corporations.

    What was your book?

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