Blown To Bits

Signs of a Move Towards Balance? (Part 1 of 2)

Thursday, September 25th, 2008 by Hal Abelson

This week saw two significant developments in the world of copyright and digital information described in Blown to Bits chapter 6, “Balance Toppled.” They signal that things just might be starting to move back towards balance.

On September 24, Judge Davis set aside the jury’s October 2007 verdict in the Jammie Thomas case.¬† That’s the case discussed in B2B of the Minnesota single mother who who was fined $222,000, $9250 per song, for sharing 24 songs on the Kazaa network, the case that became the recording industry’s “we told you so” for why people accused of file sharing by the RIAA should settle even if they are innocent, because the stakes in losing can be so high.¬† As we described in the book, Thomas’s penalty demonstrates the egregiousness of the statutory damages for copyright infringement when applied to the Internet.

Last June, as I noted in this blog, trial Judge Thomas asked whether he had made a legal error in instructing the jury that simply making music available from a computer counts as unauthorized distribution under copyright law, even if no actual distribution takes place.  (See “Sending a Message”: Revisited.)

Now Judge Davis has decided that this was indeed an error, and has granted Thomas’s motion for a new trial.¬† This is a blow to the RIAA’s lawsuit strategy: Not only does it erase the current scariest example of damages, but it’s another court that has rejected the “making available” theory: to convict someone for music-sharing copyright infringement, they will have to demonstrate that actual distribution took place, not merely that files were available on the accused infringer’s computer.

Perhaps even more notable is Judge Davis’s plea to Congress to reconsider the law about statutory damages.¬† As he writes in his opinion:

“The Court would be remiss if it did not take this opportunity to implore Congress to amend the Copyright Act to address liability and damages in peer to peer network cases…. The defendant is an individual, a consumer. She is not a business. She sought no profit from her acts…..[I]t would be a farce to say that a single mother‚Äôs acts of using Kazaa are the equivalent, for example, to the acts of global financial firms illegally infringing on copyrights in order to profit in the securities market……. [T]he damages awarded in this case are wholly disproportionate to the damages suffered by Plaintiffs.”


See Signs of a Move Towards Balance? (Part 2 of 2)

2 Responses to “Signs of a Move Towards Balance? (Part 1 of 2)”

  1. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » Bye Bye, MediaSentry Says:

    […] sharing 24 songs. The judge in the case subsequently set aside the jury’s verdict, as I noted in this blog last September. Thomas is currently awaiting retrial. Only this time, the RIAA would have to prove that she […]

  2. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    I can tell that this is not the first time you write about the topic. Why have you decided to write about it again?