Capitol Records Inc., et al. v Thomas

Memorandum of Law & Order

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Joining the ranks of federal district judges in Arizona and Massachusetts, District of Minnesota Chief Judge Michael Davis concluded on 9-24-08 that simply making a music file available in a shared file does not violate copyright law, and ordered a new trial in Capitol Records v. Jammie Thomas.

The case made headlines last year as the first peer-to-peer file-sharing case to go all the way to trial. In October 2007, a jury held Thomas liable and awarded $222,000 in damages to the record companies, based in whole or in part (it wasn't clear) on an instruction that merely making a file available violates a copyright owner's distribution right. Earlier this year, Chief Judge Davis said he was concerned that he might have made a mistake with that instruction and asked for more briefing on whether Thomas deserved a new trial. EFF, joined by Public Knowledge, the United States Internet Industry Association, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association filed an amicus brief urging the Court to reject the RIAA's making available theory.

One key holding:

The Court?s examination of the use of the term ?distribution? in other provisions of the Copyright Act, as well as the evolution of liability for offers to sell in the analogous Patent Act, lead to the conclusion that the plain meaning of the term ?distribution? does not including making available and, instead, requires actual dissemination.

If simply making a copyrighted work available to the public constituted a distribution, even if no member of the public ever accessed that work, copyright owners would be able to make an end run around the standards for assessing contributor copyright infringement.

In addition, Chief Judge Davis called on Congress to amend the Copyright Act.

This is the memorandum of law & order vacating the jury verdict & judgment, granting defendant a new trial, and denying plaintiffs' motion to amend judgment.

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Reference Info:Decision | Federal, 8th Circuit, Minnesota | United States


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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