RIAA Defendant Threatens the Empire

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Here's one to keep a weather eye on: a new lawsuit threatens to invalidate the RIAA's basis for suing all those thousands of alleged illegal downloaders. Warner v. Cassin challenges the theory that users of P2P networks can commit copyright infringement merely by making files accessible to other people.

The RIAA targets people to sue by having its authorized investigator MediaSentry scan P2P networks looking for copyrighted material. MediaSentry downloads files from other users, takes screenshots and records their IP addresses. The RIAA then uses this information (and nothing more) to base its complaints on. The problem is: the RIAA has no actual evidence that anyone else ever downloaded the files – and MediaSentry has the RIAA's authorization to do so, so copies it makes aren't infringing. That's why in these cases, the RIAA doesn't (and can't) allege any actual acts of infringement. To have a claim, however, the Copyright Act requires them to.

Moreover, Cassin argues that the RIAA's “making available” theory of infringement stands to radically impact non-P2P networks, or the internet itself. If making something available is an infringement on its own, then even hyperlinking, which makes documents available to others, could be construed as distribution and thereby infringement. And no judge wants to be responsible for breaking the internet, now, do they?

Several other RIAA defendants have tried this line of attack , but no judge has sqarely addressed the issue. Another case, Elektra v. Barker , is still awaiting a decision.

Photo courtesy of RocketRaccoon

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