RIAA Announces Department of Precrime
Thought the principle of liability was well settled? Think again. The judge presiding over Atlantic v. Howell has ruled in favor of the Recording Industry Association of America, finding that making content available for distribution over an Internet connection is in and of itself a copyright infringement –regardless of whether that content is ever distributed.
A bit of background: In 2006 the RIAA sued Pamela and Jeffrey Howell for copyright infringement, accusing the pair of “making copyrighted works available” over a peer-to-peer network. The RIAA had no evidence that the Howells ever transferred content to a third party. It did, however, have screen shots of their Kazaa account. And that was proof enough for the court to grant its motion for summary judgment against them. “It is no defense that a Kazaa user did not directly oversee the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material,” the judge wrote, noting that “the mere presence of copyrighted works in a shared folder is enough to trigger liability.”
So even though the RIAA couldn’t prove the Howells distributed files illegally, the mere fact that they owned a computer with a shared-files folder on it that contained copyrighted files “made available” over an Internet connection was enough to constitute infringement of the “distribution” rights under the Copyright Act.
Essentially, the Howells have been found criminally liable for what they might have done. Which is an unsettling thought in a Dick-ensian (Philip K.) sort of way. But not for the RIAA which, thanks to this ruling, no longer has to work quite so hard to provide proof of violation in these cases.
“Plaintiffs wish to establish two violations of copyright law when a person both downloads and uploads sound recordings via the Internet,” the Computer & Communications Industry Association and US Internet Industry Association wrote in an amicus brief filed in Elektra v. Barker, another RIAA “making available” case. “Proof of the download violation may be relatively straightforward when a plaintiff can establish that a recording has been copied to a person’s computer. Proof of a violation by uploading cannot, however, be established merely by showing the availability of files for potential uploading. A plaintiff must establish a connection to someone else’s actual download. That requires a plaintiff to establish a connection between an uploader and a corresponding downloader, to establish the facts of an actual transaction between the two. Although such proof may require investigation, a plaintiff should not be relieved of its burden. Since copyright holders may (and often do) seek statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work infringed, see 17 U.S.C. §504(c)(2), without having to prove actual harm, for such remedies they should be required to furnish allegations and proof of actual violations.
“The remedies provide an adequate incentive for a proper investigation. Amici believe that plaintiffs want to invoke the concept of ‘making available’ instead of the statutory elements of a section 106(3) distribution because plaintiffs perceive that the investigations needed for proper allegations and proof of uploading liability (as contributory infringement liability for another’s download) are burdensome.”