US Court denies ‘innocent infringer’ defence to teenager

April 2010


As the Joel Tenenbaum and Jamie Rasset-Thomas cases plough onwards in the USA, leaving the RIAA looking somewhat ridiculous, another two cases have re-emerged to add to the record labels’ woes. One can only hope the film, TV and other content industries are looking hard and learning from some of these fiascos. There is a clear message here – don’t leave your future business strategy to lawyers!

Anyway, a few years ago a teenager, Whitney Harper, who was sued by the record labels and RIAA for file sharing, claimed that the amount she should have to pay up should be less than the $750 statutory minimum, because she was an “innocent infringer,” unaware that what she was doing in listening to music was against the law.  Whilst winning with this argument in the lower court the RIAA appealed, and now the appeals court has overturned that decision and said that the statutory minimum of $750 per infringement should apply, saying that the innocent infringement defence isn’t applicable because the CDs the music came on (which she never saw) had proper copyright notices and she never uploaded from CDs!). The test is that the “innocent infringer” sustains the burden of proving…” that [she] was not aware and had no reason to believe that… her acts constituted an infringement of copyright, the court in its discretion may reduce the award of statutory damages to a sum of not less than $200.”

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