Judge says no to RIAA on P2P fines, but opens door on file sharers

Posted by Samantha Rose Hunt

Abingdon (VA) - A federal judge has ordered that the nation’s first peer-to-peer (P2P) administration, Elite Torrents, which was convicted by a jury trial on criminal copyright infringement, will not be forced to pay fines to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). However, this ruling (PDF) is nothing to get excited over as the RIAA can still sue individuals for pirated music, and far larger fines.





While the judge's ruling could be viewed as a victory of sorts (as it stopped the RIAA's motion to have Elite Torrents be heavily fined), it is not a true victory. It leaves the door open so the RIAA can go after individual file sharers. Each sharer sued and convicted could face music track piracy damages ranging anywhere from a minimum of $750 to the maximum of $150,000 per track.



One interesting aspect of the ruling is that the judge's decision addresses the RIAA’s claim that each stolen download in a criminal copyright prosecution equals the monetary loss of the total cost of the download at retail. The judge disagrees with the RIAA's position.



"Although it is true that someone who copies a digital version of a sound recording has little incentive to purchase the recording though legitimate means, it does not necessarily follow that the downloader would have made a legitimate purchase if the recording had not been available for free," said U.S. District Judge James Jones of Virginia ruled during the denial of the RIAA’s motion for force Elite Torrents to pay tens of thousands of dollars in restitution to the RIAA.



Recently, a federal jury ordered Jammie Thomas to pay $222,000 for 24 songs in which she was found liable for infringing in the only RIAA file sharing case to go to trial ($9,250 per song). It has been said that some jurors wanted to hit her with the maximum penalty of $150,000 per track when her fines were being deliberated in the civil trial.



At this point, judges are not accepting arguments which claim the Copyright Act’s damage provision is excessive.



Currently there are three ways in which an individual could be considered a criminal copyright offender, even though the majority of cases in the US are tried civilly.



First, a criminal offender is an individual who is deemed to be pirating for commercial purposes an monetary gain. Second, a criminal offender is someone who distributes pre-release material, or third, someone who distributes over $1,000 worth of copyrighted software or music within a period of 180 days without the permission of the copyright holder.