You didn't really expect the RIAA to roll over and accept the latest verdict in the Jammie Thomas trial, did you? There's too much at stake for that to happen. To quickly recap, the Minnesota mother who opted not to settle with the RIAA for $5,000 over copyright infringement allegations ended up being hammered in court to the tune $222,000, an award that was later increased to $1.9 million following a retrial last June.
The shocking turn of events came last Friday when District Court judge Michael Davis reduced the award by 97 percent, dropping the "monstrous and shocking" damages to $54,000. Davis then gave the RIAA seven days to challenge his ruling and schedule a trial on the damages.
Since then, there's been yet another twist in a case which has already had more twists and turns than a Six Flags theme park. While $54,000 is a far cry from $1.9 million, Thomas' lawyers have challenged the constitutionality of not just the current ruling, but the minimum amount of statutory damages. That's what we call a game changer, and as CNet words it, one that puts the RIAA in a pickle.
"This means that the RIAA cannot avoid the constitutional issue, even if (it accepts the latest ruling on the reduced damages)," said Kiwi Camara, one of Thomas' attorneys.
But even if Thomas' side doesn't challenge the ruling, the RIAA almost has to, lest the organization let a legal precedent remain that could impact any future copyright claims.
"There's some interesting language in (Davis' decision)," said Denise Howell, a Silicon Valley-based attorney. "The constitutional nature of statutory damages comes up over and over again. If you're in any kind of copyright case, and you've gotten a very high damage award entered against you, you're going to want to bring this up and use Judge Davis' reasoning. I know a few folks in other copyright cases that have nothing to do with P2P file sharing but think this is quite an interesting development."
So do we, and like everyone else, we'll have to wait to see how it unfolds.
Minnesota resident Jammie Thomas-Rasset, 32, was thrust into the public eye in 2006, when the music industry chose her for the most unenviable role imaginable: the poster girl of the brand of digital piracy that the average Joe practices from the comforts of his home. Several record companies sued her for copyright infringement on April 19, 2006.
Though the court originally ordered Thomas-Rasset to pay a fine of $220,000, the fine was raised to a vertiginous $1.92 million, or $80,000 per song, at a retrial. She was now left with a three-pronged hope: a court will scrap the fine or at least lower it; or a bankruptcy court will pave the way for her escape; or she will land a major book deal.
The decision leaves the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) with seven days to either accept the fresh fine or request a retrial. Joe Sibley, one of the defendant's attorneys, told Cnet that the judge had made “it much more equitable and this was much closer to the $0 award that we were seeking."
Cnet's Greg Sandoval has learnt from his sources that RIAA is not too keen on taking this any further as it only wanted to use the case as a deterrent. Sandoval also reminds everyone that Thomas-Rasset's refusal to settle with RIAA left it with no choice but to drag her to court.
Maybe Verizon spokesperson Bobbi Henson thought she was being reassuring, but her recent statement to CNET actually reads like more of a veiled threat. When asked about Verizon’s ongoing handling of illegal file sharing Henson said, “We've cut some people off. We do reserve the right to discontinue service. But we don't throttle bandwidth like Comcast was doing. Verizon does not have bandwidth caps.” Well, as long as they’re not throttling, right?
Verizon seems to have confirmed that multiple warnings for illegal file sharing could result in suspension of service. This policy is very similar to the one heavily favored by the recording industry. The RIAA originally announced their intention to work with ISPs in late 2008. The partnerships seemed not to have materialized, but this may be proof that Verizon has quietly fallen in line with the RIAA.
According to Verizon, the system works much as you’d expect. Content owners troll the p2p networks capturing IP addresses. They forward those along, and Verizon sends out infringement letters. No information was given to indicate how many infringement notices a customer will receive before being cut off. They did not give any information about what a customer can do if they feel they received a notice in error. Verizon claimed repeat offenses were rare, but are they just creating craftier, harder to catch file sharers?
Grooveshark is quite a predatory name for a music streaming service constantly under threat from record labels. The new year has gotten off to a woeful start for the music service, based entirely on user-uploaded content, with Universal Music Group dragging it to court over the presence of unauthorized copies of its content on Grooveshark. The fresh lawsuit comes barely three months after it resolved its legal dispute with EMI by agreeing to a licensing deal. In a filing with a New York State Court, UMG alleged that Grooveshark hosts unlicensed content from its pre-1972 catalog. The label also slammed Grooveshark for its refusal to deploy copyright filtering software, alleging that it has based its business solely on copyright infringement.
This will sound all too familiar to anyone who followed the Jammie Thomas saga, but once again, a convicted file sharer's legal team feels the punishment doesn't fit the crime.
The comments stem from the nation's second file sharing defendant to take the RIAA to court. By doing so, Joel Tenenbaum was ultimately fined $22,500 per song for a total of $675,000 in damages for infringing 30 songs.
"Given that fact that Tenenbaum was one of many millions of people sharing music and that the plaintiffs have failed to show any actual damages from Tenenbaum's particular actions, this award is obviously 'so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportionate to the offense and obviously unreasonable,'" wrote Charles Nesson, Tenenbaum's attorney.
The problem for Tenenbaum and Nesson is that they're clearly facing an uphill battle. Jammie Thomas, the first defendant to challenge the RIAA in court, also received a stiff penalty, only to have it increased to a whopping $1.92 million in appeals.
Everyone’s favorite fake conservative Stephen Colbert was apparently questioned by Google lawyers at a recent deposition relating the ongoing Viacom-Youtube case. At issue is Viacom’s assertion that Youtube willfully allowed copyrighted content to be uploaded illegally. The case has been ongoing for almost three years, but may actually go before a judge this year.
Google’s angle is to show that Viacom employees themselves uploaded some of the content. If they can prove this, Google argues that no line can be drawn between illegal content, and that which had Viacom’s permission. Colbert told a crowd at Chicago’s Second City that he was confused if he was supposed to be answering questions as himself, or his TV alter ego. "I had a coffee cup, and I would move it from side to side to differentiate who I was answering for. It was insane," said Colbert. If only the recording of that interview were to find its way onto Youtube; both irony and hilarity would ensue.
Southpark creators Stone and Parker were not forced to answer any questions, presumable because the lawyers were all laughed out after talking to Colbert. They were, however, supposed to provide various documents. They have yet to comply.
Gilbert Sanchez, a 47-year-old budding musician nabbed by the FBI for uploading the Wolverine movie a month before its theatrical release, doesn't deny putting the pirated flick on the Internet, but he does pretty much deny any wrongdoing.
"It's just ridiculous," Sanchez told reports from The New York Daily News. "I bought it from a Korean guy on the street for five bucks. Then I uploaded it. I didn't make any money."
Sanchez contends that there's much bigger fish the FBI should be going after and that he wasn't responsible for the original leak. And according to CNet's "Hollywood sources," the authorities have ruled out Sanchez as the original source of the leak, though it isn't clear if he knows someone behind the scenes at studios who would have access to unreleased movies.
"I had FBI with search warrant in my place," Sanchez wrote in a post at Crazypellas.net under his "SkillfulGil" username. "They took my PC. Now (they're) building a fed case on me for the same thing. Copyright Infringement...So I guess I'll (be) made an example of."
You can rest soundly tonight knowing that the villain responsible for uploading the Wolverine movie a month before its theatrical release will probably serve time behind bars. That is, if the FBI has grabbed the right man.
The FBI early this morning arrested Gilberto Sanchez, 47, in Bronx, N.Y., and believe he's the cold hearted criminal who leaked the 20th Century Fox feature film to the Internet in April. By the time the flick made it to the silver screen a month later, it had already been watched about 4.1 million times, says BigChampagne, a market research firm for file-sharing networks.
According to the indictment, Sanchez uploaded the film to Megaupload.com under one of his online aliases, which include "theSkilled1" and "SkillyGilly." But what the indictment doesn't say is how Sanchez managed to get his hands on a working copy of the flim, even though the copy that was leaked was missing a bunch of computer-generated special effects.
It's unclear how much jail time and fines Sanchez would face if convicted, but according to CNet, a New Jersey man who pleaded guilty to copyright infringement charges for uploading the film "Hulk" a few weeks before its big screen debut was sentenced to six months house arrest and slapped with a $7,000 fine.
Upholding the law and agreeing with the law in principal are two different things, and sometimes they conflict. Just ask District Court Judge Nancy Gertner, who approved a $675,000 fine against a Boston student for illegal file sharing, but made clear that she was concerned about the fairness of current copyright laws, TGDaily reports.
The judge took issue with the "astronomical" penalties available to music companies, and though she ultimately ruled in their favor, she offered up some legal advice that may be applicable to the next file sharer who lands in court.
"The Court was prepared to consider a more expansive fair use argument than other courts have credited - perhaps one supported by facts specific to this individual and this unique period of rapid technological change," Gertner said in her ruling. But she went on to say that the defense took it too far by attempting to apply fair use to pretty much any circumstance.
Joel Tenenbaum, a Boston University student, was found guilty earlier this year of illegally sharing 800 copyrighted songs and ordered to pay $22,500 for each. The law actually allows for up to $150,000 per track.
This may seem odd, but I’d like to recommend a movie this time. It’s called Sita Sings the Blues. It’s an animated retelling of the Hindu Ramayana interwoven with commentary about the story and the creator’s real life troubles, set to the 1920s-era songs of Annette Hanshaw. I know, not what you were expecting, but trust me. It’s in turns hilarious, lush, sad, and beautiful. It’s worth your time, and it’s free at Sitasingstheblues.com. Go ahead. The rest of the column will still be here when you’re done.
See, wasn’t that great?
Most talk of whether copyright is restricting free expression is theoretical, but for film makers like Sita’s Nina Paley it’s a real and common problem. Paley read the Ramayana and discovered Hanshaw’s jazz singing around the same time that she lost her relationship, and got inspired. It’s often a bit of music or a shot with something in the background that gets indie filmmakers in trouble, but Paley was particularly stuck.