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The Courts Music Piracy

Supreme Court May Tune In To Music Download Case 339

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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  • This is dumb. (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:34PM (#33665432)

    "for file-sharing 37 songs when she was a high school cheerleader"

    If she were a DEMOCRAT it wouldn't have been mentioned. Since she is a cheerleader you go out of your way to make it known. How typical.

  • Re:Look (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:40PM (#33665526)
    That's how the innocent infringement defense works. Since you weren't aware you shouldn't be liable to the same extent. The other options are no leniency or letting a person completely off the hook. I'm not sure what the right amount would be, but it's much more reasonable than the $750 minimum.

    $200 is definitely a deterrent, not sure that it's a reasonable amount, but it's much more in the realm of reasonable. Especially given that she'll likely have to pay court costs.

    The defense wouldn't exist if it was that cut and dry. It's really more a matter of whether or not it applies in this case.
  • Re:Look (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:42PM (#33665566)

    We all know the girl was a bit stupid ("I didn't know it was illegal"? Seriously? That's your defense?) What should be focused on is the judgement...$750 per track? What's bad is that's on the low-end compared to some of their other lawsuits :/

    I'll give you another lawsuit: Apple Inc. vs. Psystar. Psystar was found guilty of making about 750 illegal copies of MacOS X and was ordered to pay $30,000 for copyright infringement. That is just $40 for each copy of software that retailed for $129. (There was a small matter of DMCA violation as well, but that wouldn't be the case here). And you think $750 for a copy of a $0.99 song is anywhere near reasonable?

    There was a recent case where the judge overruled the jury on the grounds that anything over $2,250 is so extraordinarily wrong that the judge cannot possibly allow it and has a duty to overrule the jury. That doesn't mean that $2,250 would be right, it means that it is not so extraordinarily wrong that the judge is forced to overrule it, he usually has to let decisions of the jury stand even if he disagrees with them. Unless they are so unworldly bad that they cannot be allowed.

  • Re:Look (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lovedumplingx ( 245300 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:44PM (#33665586)

    It may sound like a stupid defense but honestly some people out there just didn't/still don't know that sharing certain (copyrighted) files is wrong.

    About 5 years ago (from what I've heard as this was before my time) someone at my company was selling DVDs to co-workers and made some statement via an email to everyone in the company that it wasn't a problem if he ran out as he'd just make some more. He truly had no idea that what he was doing was illegal until the legal department and the IT department blasted him.

    No one reads the FBI warnings at the beginning of films (and music doesn't really have one of those) so ignorance really is valid point one could make.

  • Re:Look (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @01:59PM (#33665852) Homepage Journal

    Who else can you award it to? The state? So that the state would then have an interest in finding for one side?

  • Re:Look (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Cowpat ( 788193 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:05PM (#33665940) Journal

    Public cash burning?

  • Re:Look (Score:3, Interesting)

    by characterZer0 ( 138196 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:05PM (#33665948)

    Burn the money. Then it increases the value of the dollar and helps everyone.

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:12PM (#33666072) Journal

    ...and they're accusing the DEFENDANT of being vexatious? That's not usually the way it works.

    I rather suspect, though, that the US Supreme Court will smack down the Fifth Circuit for ignoring the law's requirement of a minimum of $750/infringement, thereby protecting the RIAA from activist judges and hordes of underaged cheerleaders. Copyright uber alles, after all.

  • Re:Look (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Defenestrar ( 1773808 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:12PM (#33666076)
    I'm more concerned about the fact that the suit is against someone who was a minor at the time of the incident. It seems to me that the guardian (parents) should be responsible in a civil case, and a criminal case (which this isn't) should have taken place in a juvenile court (speedily - you know, all that 6th Amendment stuff).
  • Re:Look (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:14PM (#33666100)

    Ignorance is an excuse as long as there is no law classes in the public school system. You cant assume people just 'know' law

    This is just a guess, but I'm not sure it is physically possible to know all the law anymore.

    State, Local, Federal, Treaties... they all change, and some of the items being changed are thousands of pages long. Not only that, but written in legal language which is NOT readable by your normal citizen.

    Let's say you go on vacation to some state park and decide to build a campfire. Is there a fire moratorium in effect? What do you have to do to make sure that your campfire is to code. Are there also local codes which you have to follow? What are your liabilities? Hope you have a few hours to go down to the government offices to look up the code (or the library) to read up on what you need to do to build your campfire. Oh crap, a CFL in your battery powered lantern died. Is there a disposal station nearby, what are your responsiblities for recycling/disposing of the lamp. I know there is Federal and State laws in place... Or are they laws, some might be rules imposed by the EPA at the federal level, or rules imposed by the state EPA. When was the last time those rules were updated, have they changed... etc.

    Granted those are fairly mundane examples, but the concept that you are responsible for following the laws even if they are obscure is commonplace.

  • by chemicaldave ( 1776600 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:19PM (#33666182)
    Why wouldn't they? The law is unquestionably on the RIAA's side. The big issue isn't a matter of "did these people break the law" but rather, "should the copyright act apply to filesharing" and "are these fines are inflated and have no context to casual filesharers?".
  • by Drakkenmensch ( 1255800 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:27PM (#33666320)

    The big deal here is that the RIAA's standard modus operandi of retracting all charges before they have to present evidence and support their case and then return to slam the defendant with more financial ruin threats outside of court will not work. The supreme court will not take any of that bullshit, and if they try to pull out, they will just lose, plain and simple. And not just the case, they will lose face and credibility (what little they have).

    By forcing the issue, Harper is scaring them into the one scenario they were never willing to face - playing the game through to the end.

  • Re:Look (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:27PM (#33666326) Homepage

    True, but the government does have a legitimate interest in copyright control as well. Or else we wouldn't have copyright laws in the first place, ostensibly. And supposedly we have protections in place to prevent punitive traffic fines from becoming cash cows for cities.

    Punitive fines are just that: a form of punishment to deter rules violations. When you go to jail for 2 years for breaking into an Ikea, you don't go to Ikea jail where they make you build crappy Swedish furniture for their profits. If you shoplift from Ikea, you're hit with a fine that goes to the state, not Ikea. Why is it, then, that if you shoplift from the RIAA, you're hit with a massive punitive fine that goes straight to the RIAA?

  • Re:Look (Score:5, Interesting)

    by twidarkling ( 1537077 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:32PM (#33666386)

    Since when does ignorance of the law excuse you from it?

    Copyright is a contract between a copyright holder and the public, ignorance of a contract DOES excuse you from it, but only to a certain degree. That's why it's lessened penalties under the law, rather than a gigantic civil award. It's the court's way of saying "Look, you fucked up. Realistically, you should have done some research or something to figure out what you were doing was wrong. We can't let you off completely, since you did do something against the law, but we're not going to hang you for it. Consider this your warning and don't do it again." It's like a police officer pulling you over because your tail light is burnt out, and instead of giving you a ticket straight off, gives you the ability to go get it fixed promptly to avoid the fine. Yeah, you fucked up, you broke a law, and you should have noticed your tail light was out, but rather than be a dick, they want the behaviour corrected.

    Also, when was it determined that this was absolutely and irrefutably illegal (and it's certainly not _criminal), since it's a civil issue).

    Eh, under most jurisdictions, copyrights etc. are backed by force of law, which means it is actually illegal, rather than purely civil breach, but yeah, the actual, moral criminality of it? Not really. But legality and criminality are often divorced from each other.

  • Re:Look (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:38PM (#33666470)
    Have punitive damages go into an account that is used to fund Public Defenders, or something similar. Help keep corporations that can afford $10,000 an hour lawyers from going after people that, if they are lucky, can get help only from a guy that ranked 49th out of 50 in his law school and is working 5 cases at once, and if they are unlucky can't afford a lawyer at all. A court room should be a level playing field, otherwise justice cannot be said to have been achieved.
  • Re:Look (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:46PM (#33666586) Homepage Journal

    First, traffic fines are a cash cow for cities, that's why they invest so much in enforcement. Whether or not that should be, it is.

    I, personally, find there to be a meaningful difference between a two party issue (finee vs state, decision to be made by state in parking enforcement), vs a three party issue (finee vs copyright holder, decision to be made by state). If the state is motivated financially to find for the holder, we may as well roll up the holder into the state formally, and let us all vote on how we want copyright enforcement to work, rather than having those decisions made by a private organization.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @02:58PM (#33666760)

    But we all know that setting an example rarely works. An example...

    In Elizabethan times they were hanging a pickpocket to make an example of him. What happened? Pickpockets were working the crowd who were all engrossed with the spectacle of a hanging.

  • Re:Constitutionality (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @03:04PM (#33666820) Journal

    Yes, but if you steal (actually STEAL) 1 candy bar or 100 candy bars, the crime is the same, and treated as a single crime of the same magnitude. You might get a fine, or a very short jail sentence (let's call it "up to" 30 days). If you stole 100 candy bars, you would still be subject to only a maximum 30 day sentence - not 100 - 30 day sentences. That would be ridiculous.

  • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @03:36PM (#33667292) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, but somebody going psycho babbling about how they shared 15 songs and got a 2 million dollar fine and had to work hard to live in poverty for the rest of their life so just decided to go kill them all .......... that story would get some press. Especially if he got the message of WHY (giant huge ass fine destroyed his life) and HOW (sharing a CD and a half of music) out there... broken family and all... you know, the works. The corporations would be seen as the great evil after that.
  • Re:Look (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @03:37PM (#33667306) Homepage

    Least of all I liked the logic they seemed to use which was an awfully lot like "you should know nothing is free to share". It's like the MafiAA was handed a big "only CDs and DVDs and BluRays you buy in a store (or online store) is legal, everything you download for free is likely illegal" baseball bat to beat the market with. I hope the Supreme Court can see how incredibly destructive that logic would be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @03:58PM (#33667564)

    I don't think the pro-capitalist media would give very much weight to the killer: evil pirate who contributed to terrorism went on a killing spree after getting caught because the penalties weren't stiff enough to prevent him from doing anymore damage, or something like that.

  • Re:Look (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @04:13PM (#33667804)

    You've never seen the dirty crap tricks that shithole towns in the US pull. Signs "hidden" till it's way too late to manage a 20mph-or-better slowdown (at least not without being hit by people behind you) over perhaps 50 feet abound.

    For that matter, the cops in these jurisdictions just lie their ass off anyways - claim either they "paced" you, or "estimated your speed" visually so that there isn't a record you can use to contradict them. You want to fight it? Be prepared to appeal, the county judge is also the town mayor and counts on the money from the fraudulent tickets to pay for his wife and mistress.

  • by zuki ( 845560 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @04:17PM (#33667856) Journal
    It would be interesting to revisit this thread and all of its comments in 10 years' time to compare notes on what really happened.

    By then it may feel so anachronistic and quaintly out of place that the reader might well wonder why no lawmaking body could foresee the consequences of infinite copying, the end of artificial scarcity coming, and all of the consequences thereof.
    No matter what SCOTUS ends up with as an opinion, the realities on the ground will be so different by then that one can wonder how much this really matters at all. (sorry for the cheerleader)

    Maybe the real deal will be something along the lines of what Charles Stross wrote in his most excellent book Accelerando [] ?
    The carcasses of the record business purchased by Russian organized crime and turned into a for-profit extortion racket, exacting demands for payment on things that were created by people who died fifty years ago...
  • Re:Look (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @04:44PM (#33668228)

    Who else can you award it to?

    Education. Just evenly distribute it to school districts per-capita.

  • Re:Constitutionality (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Idiomatick ( 976696 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @05:13PM (#33668654)
    Downloading 24 songs -> 1.92 million dollars

    Producing wilfully misleading documents in regards to royalties owed to the natives who's land you are pumping gas from (for 25,949 violation days)
    -> 5.2 million dollars (65 songs)

    Filling falsified audits for 4 years overstating pre-tax income by more than $1 billion (really was 1.4bill).
    -> 7 million dollars (88 songs)

    Causing more than 300 oil spills (the largest being 100,000gallons into Nueces Bay, TX), illegally discharging crude oil totalling 3million gallons of crude leaking into ponds, lakes, rivers and streams across 6 states over a period of 7 years. All due to negligence and improper maintenance.
    -> 35 million dollars (437 songs)

    Seems fair to me. 229 gallons of leaked crude oil into natural environments per mp3 copied. That means that my personal music collection is as bad as dumping 1.15 million barrels of oil across the countryside. To try to imagine how much that is: It is 357 average sized US homes filled with oil.

    Also, the legal cap is a mere $150,000 per file, not 200.
  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @06:36PM (#33669750)

    Never been to Kansas I take it...

    Take for instance, Kansas interstate highway K15. Between Winfield and Mulvane? 70mph, for the most part. But then you go through 2 podunk towns that literally straddle the highway... BAM-- 20mph.

    Ever tried to decelelrate from 70 to 20 in 50 ft or less? -- Yeah.

    Then, you GET to winfield; The highway magically becomes mainstreet, after an obscuring turn around a municiple water project.. BAM-15mph, and a detour through a traffic light just a few blocks down.

    This is quite common around here in "Flyover Country", and is the rule, NOT the exception.

  • Re:Look (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 23, 2010 @01:58PM (#33678044)

    I love this example because it's fucking true. I've thought about sitting in the defendant's seat and being on the stand, or in front of congress etc.

    Congressman: "Sir, why did you do x."
    Me: "I take the fifth."
    Congressman: "You have to answer the question sir, there's evidence that you did X, a picture and everything look we even have your hands on Y proving X!"
    Me: "Due to the nature of our legal system, and the number of laws on the books I cannot confirm nor deny any activities I have performed fall within that legal system since I am not an expert."
    Congressman: "You are a citizen, you should know the law!"
    Me: "I am not a lawyer, that's how you got your job not me."

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury