Revokes earlier reduced judgment of $7400, $200 p/illegally downloaded song, increasing to $27,750, $750 p/song, saying her “reliance on her own understanding of copyright law—or lack thereof—is irrelevant.”
The RIAA, after a string of successive defeats, has managed to eke out a big win against a former file-sharing teen cheerleader who made the mistake of illegally downloading 37 copyrighted songs sometime when she was between the ages of 14 and 16yo.
Whitney Harper won an earlier decision, if you can call it that, when US District Judge Xavier Rodriguez granted her an “innocent infringer’s” exemption to the Copyright Act’s minimum $750 p/violation and ordered her to pay $200 p/violation instead.
Harper had argued that she was an “innocent infringer” because she “had no knowledge or understanding of file trading, online distribution networks or copyright infringement,” and that KaZaA and other P2P programs didn’t tell her that content available on their networks was “stolen or abused copyrighted material.”
“I had no way of learning this information prior to this lawsuit,” she told the court.
Judge Rodriguez agreed, in part, because the RIAA failed to convince him that placing labels on the physical copies of the CDs from which the songs must have originally come from was sufficient enough notification that the songs were copyrighted in order to negate her “innocent infringer” defense.
Since there were never any CDs involved in her actions there was never a warning for her to see.
For when it comes to the Copyright Act, you can’t claim “innocent infringement” if the copyright holder places a proper notification of copyright on the actual sound recording.
“If a notice of copyright in the form and position specified by this section appears on the published phonorecord or phonorecords to which a defendant in a copyright infringement suit had access, then no weight shall be given to such a defendant’s interposition of a defense based on innocent infringement in mitigation of actual or statutory damages,” it reads in part.
That judgment has now been revoked by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which has decided that those notifications – located on those CDs wherever they may have existed in the world – was sufficient notification, mainly because they would’ve been similar to the ones on the CDs in her possession.
It belies the whole intent of the exemption which was to protect people from exorbitant fines without having first been told of the risk.
The result? It reinstated statutory damages of $750 p/song for a total of $27,750.
“We AFFIRM the district court’s finding of copyright liability, REVERSE its finding that the innocent infringer defense presented an issue for trial, and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” reads the ruling.
The troubling thing is that Harper is now a 22yo college senior and faces the dual challenge of paying back student loans as well as RIAA fines.
If the RIAA’s hope is that will teach all the 14yos out there not to use P2P programs they’re sadly mistaken. It’s simply another example of how much it’s lost all sense of reason in its decade long fight against illegal file-sharing. A $28,000 dollar judgment against a 14yo will only make people realize just how outdated our copyright laws really are.
If an 8th grader can’t claim an “innocent infringer” exemption then who can?