12 Angry Men

Justice Without question, the Internet has made life better. It is much easier to look at satellite photos of your neighbor's pool, buy drugs without a prescription, and send checks for $25,000 so the bank in Nigeria will send you a check for $55 million. On the downside, the Internet has badly blurred our already fuzzy (damn photocopy machines) copyright laws. For example, downloading music seems as free and easy as, well - downloading movies. While efforts by the RIAA to curb file sharing attracted much interest in the early days of Napster, they have largely fallen off the radar screen. Unless you are Mr. Jeffrey Howell and Mrs. Pamela Howell.

In 2006, they were sued by Atlantic Recording Corporation et al, for copyright infringement, and in particular for downloading music from KaZaA.  After considerable legal wrangling, U.S. District Court Judge Neil V. Wake yesterday reversed his previous ruling, and said that making copies of music available is not the same as distributing music (which is a primary copyright infringement). The RIAA had argued that by using KaZaA, the Howells had made copyrighted music available for online sharing, and that this was a form of distributing music. Mr. Howell, representing himself, contended that he had ripped music from his own CDs, but had not placed them in a shared folder, and had not downloaded music from KaZaA. Mr. Howell further contended that it was KaZaA, not him, that had copied music from his private folders and shared it.

The judge ruled that even if Mr. Howell had placed music in a shared folder, it was a third party that would have read his hard drive and copied the files. In that case, even it was proved that Mr. Howell had put music in a shared folder and someone had copied it, then Mr. Howell may only be responsible for contributing to copyright infringement, but he would not be responsible for distribution of copyrighted music (primary copyright infringement).

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, this latest ruling was a rejection of the RIAA's "making available" theory of infringement. With the judge's denial of the RIAA's request for a summary judgment against the Howells, the case will probably go to trial. Stay tuned, and check your mail for subpoenas. -Ken C. Pohlmann

RIAA, EFF, Judge's Decision