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RIAA Ruling: Good News or Bad?

The decision this week by a federal judge in Minnesota to order a new trial in the recording industry's case against Jammie Thomas was seen by many as a victory for users of peer-to-peer networks. But was it? Thomas remains the only defendant sued by the Recording Industry Association of America to take her case to trial, resulting in a jury verdict against her of $222,000. But in a decision this week, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis vacated the verdict, concluding that he erred by instructing the jury that Thomas could be found liable for simply making a music file available in a folder on her computer, without showing actual distribution of the file.

The decision was seen as good news for Thomas and other file-sharing defendants. At the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, Dan Slater described the ruling as a blow to the recording industry, one that "will certainly make the policing job of the [RIAA] a lot harder." But another blogger says that the ruling's significance may lie as much in what it gave the RIAA as what it took away. "It nullified an almost foolproof method for the RIAA to prevail in cases and replaced it with another," contends David Kravetz at Wired's Threat Level blog.

The issue is this: Judge Davis said that evidence of "making available," standing alone, is not enough to prove copyright infringement unless the plaintiffs also prove distribution. That was the good news. The bad news was that he went on to say that the RIAA could prove distribution by showing that the company it hired to investigate Thomas, MediaSentry, downloaded the file as part of its investigation. "Distribution to an investigator, such as MediaSentry, can constitute unauthorized distribution," the judge wrote.

Lawyers for file-sharing defendants argue that it makes no sense to count downloads by RIAA investigators as evidence of illegal file sharing. One of Thomas's attorneys, Brian Toder, told Threat Level blogger Kravetz that this week's decision clearly hurts the defense. "One can either have an infringement by violating reproduction rights or by distribution. According to that opinion, there is still a violation of a distribution right if your own people, MediaSentry, does the downloading. That doesn't help us," Toder said. The upshot of this is that, at least for the time being, it appears the litigation battles between the RIAA and file sharers will continue.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 26, 2008 at 03:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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