Obama Admin. Urging Appeals Court to Reinstate $1.5 Million File-Sharing Verdict

The Obama administration is putting pressure on a federal appeals court to reinstate a $1.5 million verdict against a Minnesota woman for sharing two dozen songs on Kazaa.

A Minnesota federal judge lowered the verdict to $54,000, ruling that the jury’s award “for stealing 24 songs for personal use is appalling.”

The Copyright Act allows penalties of as much as $150,000 per infringement.

The decision by US District Judge Michael Davis follows the third trial in the Recording Industry Association of America’s lawsuit against Jammie Thomas-Rasset. She is the first file sharer to take an RIAA lawsuit to a jury trial.

Despite the judge’s reduction, Thomas-Rasset appealed the lowered damages verdict, (.pdf) claiming the Copyright Act was unconstitutional because of its large or “excessive” awards. The RIAA on the other hand, claims that judges do not have the power to alter jury awards dealing with copyright infringement.

The Obama administration, which is intervening because the constitutionality of the Copyright Act is at issue, agreed with the RIAA that the act was constitutional.

“The Copyright Act’s statutory damage provision is reasonably related to furthering the public interest in protecting original works of artistic, literary, and musical expression and its constitutionality must therefore be sustained under the applicable, highly deferential standards of judicial review,” the government wrote (.pdf) to the Missouri-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Davis has overturned the judgments of three separate juries in the Thomas-Rasset case dating back to 2007.

The first trial of Thomas-Rasset, of Minnesota, ended with a $222,000 judgment, but Davis declared a mistrial, on the grounds that he’d improperly instructed the jury on a point of law. After the second trial, Davis tentatively reduced the award from $1.92 million to $54,000, and ordered a new trial on damages if the parties didn’t agree to that amount or settle. That third trial ended in the $1.5 million judgement that Davis reduced again.

Judge Davis, the nation’s first judge to reduce the amount of damages in a Copyright Act case, said fairness demanded his decision to reduce the latest award to $2,250 per track.

The RIAA said in a legal filing with the appeals court that Judge Davis’ decision “is fundamentally incompatible both with Plaintiff’s constitutional right to have a jury determine what amount of statutory damages is just, and with the deference due to congressionally authorized awards.”

Most of the thousands of RIAA file sharing cases against individuals settled out of court for a few thousand dollars. The RIAA has ceased its 5-year campaign of suing individual file sharers and, with the Motion Picture Association of America, has convinced internet service providers to take punitive action against copyright scofflaws, including terminating service.


Reddit Drafts “The Freedom of Internet Act”

Unsatisfied with Washington’s parade of corporate sell-out politicians, Reddit users have taken it upon themselves to draft legislation in place of SOPA and PIPA. Using a Google Doc open for anyone to help write and edit, they’ve come up with a draft version of “The Freedom of Internet Act”.

The act addresses some basic tenets they’ve set forth, but these proclamations are subject to change as this is a living document:

  • Censorship – No government of any form presiding over any land, people, or assets in any form within the United States of America shall pass any law, nor ratify any treaty, which imposes or administers any kind of censorship on the Internet, except content found to be illegal content in accordance with this act.
  • Culpability – Only the creator or uploader of data is responsible for whether that data is legal to upload, possess or make available to other users or information services.
  • Restrictions on the Internet – No federal union or sovereign state may pass unilateral restrictions on the Internet.
  • Content removal – Notice must be given to an administrator of the information system and to the uploader of the content within at least 30 days in advance of any deletion of data from any information system or service, or within 24 hours of the transfer of the data in question from publicly accessible storage to privately accessible storage.
  • Judicial proceedings – Anyone undergoing judicial proceedings based on this document must be judged in the courts of the nation where the alleged offence was committed.
  • Appropriate punishment – TBD
  • Rights of the user – Addresses right to anonymity, privacy, use of proxies, encryption without fear of discrimination or suspicion.
  • Liability and Settlement of Copyright Infringement Claim – All calculations related to this are to be carried out in a consumer, retail, individual level pricing upon which the production cost, marketing cost will not influence, capped at 200% of calculated damage.

The sub-Reddit page for FIA is located here, where it was created by a user named “RoyalwithCheese22

The act seeks to protect transformative works taken from copyrighted materials, such as mash-ups, memes and other types of content shared on sites like Reddit, YouTube, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter. It also aims to address issues at an international level not just in the U.S.

1) If an individual resided in more than one country when committing violation(s) of this document, they shall be judged based on their physical location at the time of the offence.

2) The individual in question may demand extradition to their country of residence or citizenship, where they must then be tried for the listed offences. The court proceeding shall judge the crime as if the offence had been committed in his country of residence or citizenship during the event of the crime.

3) No person is to be extradited, deported or forced to leave, nor forcibly taken from a country for the need of legal proceedings. Any legal proceeding must be conducted in the country of which the crime was committed.

New File-Sharing Technology is Immune to Government Attacks

The battle for internet freedom just got a little more interesting. A new file-sharing software called Tribler is immune to attacks from government or anti-piracy organizations, its creators claim.

“The only way to take it down is to take the internet down” says Dr Pouwelse of Delft University of Technology.

Tribler is a variant on the popular BitTorrent file-sharing software, but is designed specifically to stay online under any circumstances.

“Tribler is designed to keep BitTorrent alive, even when all torrent search engines, indexes and trackers are pulled offline” says file-sharing news site Torrentfreak.

Some file sharing  sites were shaken in the wake of the arrest of Megauploads founder, Kim Dotcom, along with three of his colleagues, who’ve been charged with racketeering, copyright infringement and money laundering.

Popular BitTorrent sites BTJunkie and QuickSilverScreen voluntarily shut down while Filesonic and Fileserve users are now being restricted to downloading files they’ve uploaded themselves.

Tribler, though, could be a game changer.

There is no central point to attack. Users with the software share files with each other without a “listing site” hosting the files. The technology has been under test for six years, and has never been offline, even for a second, its Dutch creators told TorrentFreak.

“Our key quest is facilitating unbounded information sharing” Dr. Pouwelse added.


Hollywood Studios Sue Limewire

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) already won its copyright case against Mark Gorton founder of the once popular file sharing site LimeWire. On May 12, Gorton agreed to pay the RIAA $105 million, but apparently the bulls eye still remains on his back.

Courthouse News Service reported last week that another group has come together to level a suit against LimeWire.  Twentieth Century Fox, Viacom, Comedy Partners, Disney, Paramount Pictures, and Warner Bros. have filed a copyright claim against Gorton and his now defunct service.

According to the lawsuit since LimeWire has already been held liable for copyright infringement in regards to music all they have to do is demonstrate that LimeWire also enabled the piracy of movies. The studios have cited 53 works that they owned, which were shared via LimeWire.

Joseph Baio, Gorton’s attorney, was not immediately available for comment.

Some of the other groups that have sued Gorton are music publishers and a group of independent record labels, and the latest group of film studios likely won’t be the last Gorton hears from Hollywood. If this group is successful in their suit, the other two majors, Sony Pictures and NBC Universal, could also file a complaint, as well as dozens of other indie studios.

How much money Gorton has left is anybody’s guess, but a few years ago he appeared to have put a large sum of money in a family trust. Observers said this was likely an attempt to “judgment proof” his estate or protect his assets from legal claims.

Reddit Plans Jan. 18th Blackout in Protest of SOPA/PIPA

In a blog post, community news-sharing site Reddit announced that it will be shutting down normal operations on January 18 in protest of the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA).

From the blog post:

The freedom, innovation, and economic opportunity that the Internet enables is in jeopardy. Congress is considering legislation that will dramatically change your Internet experience and put an end to reddit and many other sites you use everyday. Internet experts, organizations, companies, entrepreneurs, legal experts, journalists, and individuals have repeatedly expressed how dangerous this bill is. If we do nothing, Congress will likely pass the Protect IP Act (in the Senate) or the Stop Online Piracy Act (in the House), and then the President will probably sign it into law. There are powerful forces trying to censor the Internet, and a few months ago many people thought this legislation would surely pass. However, there’s a new hope that we can defeat this dangerous legislation.

We’ve seen some amazing activism organized by redditors at /r/sopa and across the reddit community at large. You have made a difference in this fight; and as we near the next stage, and after much thought, talking with experts, and hearing the overwhelming voices from the reddit community, we have decided that we will be blacking out reddit on January 18th from 8am–8pm EST (1300–0100 UTC).

If passed, SOPA would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders against foreign and domestic websites that enable or facilitate copyright infringement. Accused websites would be removed from search engine results, barred from online advertising networks, and blocked from payment processing networks. Sites like Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube and Reddit could be crippled for hosting or linking user-uploaded content that potentially infringes on copyrights.

The bill would also make the unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content, such as a song or TV show, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

Reddit’s planned 12-hour blackout coincides with a congressional hearing on SOPA, at which tech and security leaders, including Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, will air their grievances toward SOPA and PIPA.

During the downtime, Reddit will stream the hearing and display a statement on why this legislation would mean the end of user-generated content sites.

Last month, Reddit user selfprodigy started a boycott against domain-hosting company GoDaddy, for supporting SOPA. Selfprodigy asked domain holders to transfer their websites to other hosting companies. The next day, GoDaddy withdrew its support for SOPA citing a spike in domain name transfers.

On Twitter, reactions to the Reddit blackout have been overwhelmingly positive. The hacker group Anonymous came out in support of Reddit, tweeting a link to the blog post announcing the blackout.

In December, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales considered a site-wide black out to demonstrate what the site might look like should this legislation pass. The blackout never happened, but Wales did withdraw Wikipedia and Wikia domains from GoDaddy as part of the December boycott.

Some suggest that the Reddit blackout could lead to more collective efforts against SOPA. According to VentureBeat, “there have been rumblings that Google, Twitter and Facebook are also planning a collective protest effort against SOPA and PIPA.”