File Sharing, Break It Down! - The RIAA v. The People
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Let's go ahead and bring things back to the good ol' U.S. of A. The Recording Industry Association of America has filed well over 20,000 lawsuits against people in the United States suspected of copyright infringement. Basically, the RIAA has filed thousands of lawsuits against their own customers, forcing them to pay upwards of thousands of dollars that they don't have. The most recent case to garner attention is Atlantic v. Howell.
In that particular case, the RIAA went so far as to say that making personal copies of legally purchased music is illegal. Apparently the Arizona resident, Jeffrey Howell, like millions of others, did just that. The RIAA says that these copies are unauthorized: “If you make unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings, you're stealing. You're breaking the law and you could be held legally liable for thousands of dollars in damages.” But what really got Howell into trouble was that he allegedly placed the files into his “shared folder,” where they could be distributed over a P2P network.
This all boils down to the interpretation of the “fair use” doctrine. While making copies for personal use would seem to fit into the parameters outlined for fair use, statements made by RIAA representatives convey a different outlook. They have said, “The Register [of Copyrights] was right in 2003 to be 'skeptical' of the merits of any fair use analysis that asserts that space-shifting or format-shifting is a noninfringing use. Similarly, creating a back-up copy of a music CD is not a non-infringing use.”
The main concern in the Howell case, though, is over whether the RIAA can sue for attempted copyright infringement. The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently filed a brief in the case saying “no.” They argue that the Copyright Act has never recognized “attempted distribution” (in this case, having files in a shared folder). After already being rejected by the courts in lawsuits against Napster and Google, they switched their relentless attacks onto the individual P2P users.
If the RIAA could win a number of these cases, they could in effect set a precedent that could help them in future copyright law reform. However, in order to win any cases, they are going to have to prove more than that the infringing distributions could have taken place; they need evidence that they did take place.
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