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The U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled against LimeWire and its parent company, Lime Group, finding them liable for inducement of copyright infringement based on the use of their service by subscribers. 

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood issued the 59-page decision Wednesday, siding with the 13 record companies that sued Lime Wire LLC and founder and Chairman Mark Gorton through the RIAA claiming copyright infringement and unfair competition.lime_220x147

In finding the company liable, Wood opined that LimeWire had optimized its application to "ensure that users can download digital recordings, the majority of which are protected by copyright," and that the company actively "assists users in committing infringement."  Wood also found that the defendants knew their technology was being used to download copyrighted tunes and took no "meaningful steps" to prevent the infringement. In addition, Lime Wire marketed its software to people "predisposed to committing infringement" and assisted those people, the judge ruled.

Major labels, as represented by the RIAA, were predictably thrilled with the outcome.  "This definitive ruling is an extraordinary victory for the entire creative community.  The court made clear that LimeWire was liable for inducing widespread copyright theft," RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol relayed.

Lime Wire Chief Executive George Searle issued a statement saying the company "strongly opposed the court’s recent decision."  The statement continued:

"Lime Wire remains committed to developing innovative products and services for the end-user and to working with the entire music industry, including the major labels, to achieve this mission," Searle said.

Searle did not say whether Limewire would appeal the ruling.

The Recording Industry Association of America proclaimed the decision was "an important milestone" in the battle against online copyright infringement, because Gorton was found personally liable, in addition to the company of which mitch-bainwol-riaa he was the chairman.  Personal liability against a corporate director is rare.

"The court has sent a clear signal to those who think they can devise and profit from a piracy scheme that will escape accountability," Mitch Bainwol, chairman and chief executive of the RIAA, said in a statement.

LimeWire, launched in 2000, is one of the largest remaining commercial peer-to-peer services left on the Web. The company claims to have more than 50 million monthly users.  The company has managed to defend itself against major label legal action for years.  

In issuing her opinion, Wood relied heavily on the 2005 Grokster ruling, in which the Supreme Court said that a file-sharing service was liable when customers were induced to use it for swapping songs and movies illegally.  The test established by the Supreme Court in MGM v. Grokster for provider liability is whether the company actively induced users to commit infringing activities.  While LimeWire argued that it did not, Judge Wood noted that the company actively  “markets LimeWire to users predisposed to committing infringement.”

The record companies that sued Lime Wire included Arista, Atlantic, BMG Music, Capital, Elektra, Interscope, LaFace, Motown, Priority, Sony BMG, UMG, Virgin and Warner Brothers.

You say you want a revolution

Well, you know

We all want to change the world . . .

 

You say you’ve got a real solution

Well, you know

We’d all love to see the plan

You ask me for a contribution

Well, you know

We are doing what we can

 

But if you want money

for people with minds that hate

All I can tell is, brother, you’ll have to wait

 

Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?

 

-John Lennon

Perhaps John Lennon said it best:  if you push people hard enough and long enough, they will revolt.  The question is, has the RIAA gone too far for too long? A recent motion filed in their case against students at the University of Maine may very well answer that question.

The RIAA named numerous “John Doe” students in their complaint in Arista Records v. Does 1-27, as is their practice in all of their lawsuits.   The RIAA’s purpose of naming the John Doe defendants is so that they may obtain an ex parte (i.e., without the other party being notified) order from the Judge requiring the targeted university to provide the various students’ name, address, and, particularly, their IP address.

Student lawyers at the University school of law Cumberland Legal Clinic have filed a motion for Rule 11 sanctions against the RIAA claiming that this practice improperly seeks to circumvent the student’s rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, §1232g(b)(2)(B) (“FERPA”), gain publicity for its cause, and coerce students into settling for “nominal” amounts in the $3-5000 range.

Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows sanctions against an attorney who signs a pleading without properly investigating the facts and the law and does so with an improper purpose.

The motion also questions whether the joinder of plaintiffs and defendants under the RIAA-type lawsuits is proper because the actions do not, in fact, arise out of the same transaction.  Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Procedure provides that multiple plaintiffs can join in one action if “they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences…and any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a).  Similarly, multiple defendants can be joined in one action if “any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transaction or occurrences . . . and any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” Id.  The student motion alleges that the RIAA does not, in fact, believe that all of these copyright infringements arise out of the same facts, but join together against multiple defendants for the sole purpose of trimming litigation and discovery costs.

In this case, the student lawyers are seeking more than just monetary damages under this Rule 11 motion:  they also seek dismissal of the complaint and a permanent injunction preventing the RIAA from filing “fishing expedition” type complaints against “unconnected” defendants in the future.  These types of injunctions may be applied in jurisdictions other than the one in which it was issued, so in theory such an order may be applied to thwart lawsuits in other Federal courts across the country.

This in one ruling that should be very interesting.

 

New York Times technology columnist and Emmy-award winning CBS news correspondent David Pogue is featured in this YouTube video singing a fun diddy about the digital wave of media on the Internet, ending with a humorous take on the RIAA and its wave of litigation against college students nationwide.  Enjoy

 

U.S. District Judge for the District of Connecticut  Justice Janet Bond Arterton, handed down a very pointed and decisive opinion hammering the RIAAR.I.A.A. for its boilerplate style of pleading in the nationwide wide campaign against illegal file sharing.   Justice Arterton was appointed by President Clinton in 1995.  The full decision is here:  Decision.  At several key junctures in the opinion, Justice Arterton based her opinion on the fact that the Plaintiff’s complaint was based on “information and belief” rather than direct evidence.

The two areas of concern in the opinion, one is whether to grant a default judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2) and the second is whether the complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b).

Default Judgment Analysis under Rule 55(b)(2)

The granting of default judgment is generally almost a “rubber stamp” kind of process.  If the defendant is properly served and fails to respond to the complaint, a default judgment is almost always automatic.  If the complaint demands an exact amount as judgment, the default judgment can even be entered by the court’s clerk under Rule 55(b)(1).  If not, then the court holds a hearing to determine the amount of damages under Rule 55(b)(2).  In this instance, however, the court stepped in and took it upon herself to examine the validity of the claims.

Reasoning from a 2nd Circuit case, Au Bon Pain Corp.v. Artect, Inc., 653 F.2d 61 (2d Cir. 1981), the court found that the default judgment process is not, in fact, automatic, but that “a district court has discretion . . . to require proof of necessary facts and need not agree that the alleged facts constitute a valid cause of action.”  Artect, at 65, citing Wright & Miller, a well known legal treatise on procedure. 

Looking a another legal treatise, Moore’s Federal Practice, Justice Arterton reasoned that the analysis should combine elements from Rule 55(c), the rule allowing the setting aside of a default judgment, and Rule 60(b), a more generic rule allowing  a court to set aside judgments.  Finding support for this analysis in 2nd Circuit case law, the court held that three factors arose in determining whether to set aside a judgment under either of the two rules:  (1) “the willfulness of default”; (2) “the existence of a meritorious defense”; and (3) “the possibility of prejudice to the plaintiffs should the default judgment be vacated.”

In weighing these factors, the judge determined that the latter two factors shifted in favor of the defendant, i.e., there were abundant meritorious defenses raised in similar cases filed by the RIAA across the country, and the Plaintiff would not be prejudiced by being required to produce more specific evidence.  In both instances, the court again mentioned the language that the Plaintiff’s complaint was based on “information and belief.”

Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can be Granted under Rule 12(b)(6)

The more telling section of the opinion is the court’s ostensibly sua sponte (i.e., of its own accord) analysis of whether the Plaintiff’s complaint failed to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  This rule generally givesscales5 the defendant a right to raise this defense in a response to a complaint.   Ostensibly, the court raised this issue in the context of possible meritorious defenses.

Justice Arterton cites the recent Supreme Court opinion that a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, [but] a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions.”  Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964–65 (2007).  She then observed that Plaintiff’s complaint in this case was almost identical to the one filed in Interscope Records v. Rodriguez, where the court held:

Plaintiff here must present at least some facts to show the plausibility of their allegations of copyright infringement against the Defendant. However, other than the bare conclusory statement that on “information and belief” Defendant has downloaded, distributed and/or made available for distribution to the public copyrighted works, Plaintiffs have presented no facts that would indicate that this allegation is anything more than speculation. The complaint is simply a boilerplate listing of the elements of copyright infringement without any facts pertaining specifically to the instant Defendant. The Court therefore finds that the complaint fails to sufficiently state a claim upon which relief can be granted and entry of default judgment is not warranted.

Rodriguez, No. 06-2485, 2007 WL 2408484, at *1 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 17, 2007).  Citing the Second Circuit case Greyhound Exhibit Group, Inc. v. E.L.U.L. Realty
Corp., 973 F.2d 155, 158 (2d Cir. 1992), which held that the entry of default “constitute[s] a concession of all well pleaded allegations of liability,” Justice Arterton ruled that Plaintiff’s complaint was “speculative” and “inadequate.”

Eric Bangeman, of Ars Technica reports that the RIAA plans to file a brief, probably accompanying a motion for reconsideration, and possible an amended complaint, as they did in Interscope v. Rodriguez.  The amended complaint provided additional details about dates, times, and IP addresses.  Whether the additional details of that amendment will alter the application of Rule 12(b)(6) is still unknown, as the judge in that case has since retired.

The Recording Industry v. the People, an anti-RIAA blog operatRIAA ed by New York attorney, Ray Beckerman, is cooperating with the Boston-based non-profit, The Free Software Foundation, to establish “a fund to help provide computer expert witnesses to combat RIAA’s ongoing lawsuits, and to defend against the RIAA’s attempt to redefine copyright law.”

The Free Software Foundation was established to promote the development and use of free software.  It manages several campaigns to achieve that goal, including one called “BadVista.org,” fighting the adoption of Microsoft Vista, and “DefectivebyDesign.org” which was established for the purpose of eliminating digital rights management in music and movies from “Big Media.”

As of the end of November, the fund had raised over $4,000.  The fund will be administered by Mr. Beckerman and will be disbursed to technical witnesses hired by RIAA litigation defense teams on a variety of criteria, including the basis of the importance of the case to critical legal issues.

To donate to the fund, click here.

For almost a decade now, the major labels (at the beginning there wereRIO five of them, now only four, EMI, Sony BMG, Vivendi Universal and Warner) have declared that illegal downloading is ravaging their business by destroying the sales of physical product.  One may question this declaration, however, in few of the fact that ever since the RIAA filed its 1998 litigation again the manufacturer of the Diamond Rio MP3 player and extending to its most recent lawsuits against individuals across the country, the music industry has committed more public image faux pas than Dan Quayle and George W combined, making it one of the most hated industries among high school and college students.  It should be apparent to everyone now that it is not illegal downloads that is causing the downturn in music sales, as there are many other contributing factors.

This marred image is evident.  According to an article in Rolling Stone magaine entitled The Record Industry’s Decline:

About 2,700 record stores have closed across the country since 2003, according to the research group Almighty Institute of Music Retail. Last year the eighty-nine-store Tower Records chain, which represented 2.5 percent of overall retail sales, went out of business, and Musicland, which operated more than 800 stores under the Sam Goody brand, among others, filed for bankruptcy. Around sixty-five percent of all music sales now take place in big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy, which carry fewer titles than specialty stores and put less effort behind promoting new artists.

Nonetheless, a new research study on the issue, commissioned by the Canadian government to explore issues related to copyright reform, was recently released.  The study is entitled The Impact of Music Downloads and P2P File-Sharing on the Purchase of Music: A Study for Industry Canada, and was written by Birgitte Andersen and Marion Frenz, of the Department of Management at the University of London in England.  A PDF version of the study is published here.

The results of the new study affirm many of the conclusions found in an earlier study entitled, The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis.  This paper was published in the February 2007 issue of The Journal of Political Studies, and was written by Koleman Strumpf, professor of business economics at the University of Kansas Business School and Felix Oberholzer of the Harvard University Business School.  Both studies directly contradict the claims of the music industry that file sharing is related to revenue losses.

In fact, the new study supports an opposite assertion, i.e., that distribution of music files on P2P networks actually promotes the sale of physical product.  Andersen and Frenz found, among people who actually participate in P2P file sharing, downloading actually increases the sale of physical product by a ration of 2 to 1, in other words, on average when a P2P file sharer downloaded the equivalent of two CDs in files, he or she would purchase of one physical CD (Note:  I have extrapolated here, as the numbers set forth in the study actually say that for every 12 P2P songs downloaded, physical purchases increased by 0.44 CDs).  It is important to note that the study concluded that, when incorporating the Canadian population as a whole (i.e., including the group who participate in P2P file sharing along with those who do not), file sharing on P2P networks has neither a positive nor a negative impact on CD sales.

One fact in the report I found very intriguing is its conclusion that the owners of MP3 players are less likely to purchase physical product.  This is interesting, in my mind, because I believe it is connected to the popularity of the iPod and iTunes.  If a person purchases the iPod and uses iTunes, there is really no need to buy physical product, whereas when a person uses a different brand of MP3 player, he or she is, in my humble opinion, more likely to go out in search of alternative means of finding music, including purchasing CD’s.  I would like to see a study which compares iPod owners with owners of third party MP3 players.  It may turn out that the biggest culprit in the demise of the record industry is Apple!

One story I found really revealing is the Rolling Stones article on The Record Industry’s Decline.  In it, the author tells the story about how the major labels were unable to come to a settlement with Napster which would have given them immediate access to Napster’s 38 million users.  I don’t know the details of that meeting, but it seems to me that when the industry burst that bubble, those 38 million users disbursed into millions of subgroups on P2P networks so varied that it become virtually impossible to get the magic back.  Hindsight is, of course, always better than foresight, but this event certainly seems to me to one of the biggest turning points in our industry’s history.

Is the music industry going to survive.  Of course!  It will certainly not be in the form many traditionalists in the industry wish it to be.  CD’s eventually be ancient relics of the past, sought after by collectors much as jazz lovers currently seek out old vinyls and record players.  The radio industry will not have control over marketing and thus the role of radio consultants on the industry will be diminished.  Marketing efforst will shift to television outlets and Internet marketing.  Search engines and online communities will continue to surface new music and expose the long tail.  Major labels will no be the sole repository of the major talent, as independents will rise to fill the void, fueled by venture capital from investors.  Whatever happens, it going to be an interesting ride!

Some further reading:

The Freakonomics of Music

File Sharing:  Zero Effect on Downloads

The Record Industry’s Decline

Abraham Maslow’s famous “hierarchy of needs” places self-actualization as the pinnacle of human behavior. To illustrate what the phrase “self-actualization” meant , Maslow said:

“a musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves.”

Of course, the thing that is important to note about Maslow’s hierarchy is that physiological needs are at its base, i.e., a person’s basic needs must be met before Maslow's Self-Acutalization hierarchythat person can reach self-actualization. In other words, “a guy’s gotta eat”!

Maslow’s theories shed some light on the ongoing social debate on the Internet regarding whether musicians would continue to produce quality music if copyright as we know it were to be abolished. A different argument, though very related, is whether money motivates one to be creative.

One movement advocating such ideas is the “Free Culture Movement.” Another less extremist movement is Stanford professor, Lawrence Lessig’s “Creative Commons” group, which advocates modified forms of traditional license agreements as a social compromise to “reconcile creative freedom with marketplace competition.” Watch Lessig’s video, released today on TED, entitled “How creativity is being strangled by the law.” For another this interesting discussion, see the site Against Monopoly.

The underlying assumption of some of the parties involved in the debate, which is ostensibly grounded in the record and movie industry’s recent campaigns against infringers, is that all intellectual property should be free for the public to use without payment and that the antiquated copyright laws should be modified or abolished. In my opinion, this extremism ignores the foundation principle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that in order to achieve self-actualization, an artist’s or musician’s base needs must be satisfied.

Proponents of the free culture movement observe that creativity survived many years without the structural form which copyright superimposed upon it. Indeed, it is often observed that the great works of Mozart were created without the existence of copyright laws. Don’t forget, however, that Mozart wrote many of his works while being employed by benefactors such as the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg, Heironymus Colloredo and Emperor Joseph II of Vienna, names that are certainly not as prominent as Mozart’s. In fact, where would the world of the arts be without the billions of dollars that have been donated by benefactors such as J.P. Morgan, James Smithson, Bill & Melinda Gates, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefellar, just to name a select, if not elite, few. So, while it is true that “a musician must create music,” it is also true that a musician has to eat.

Long before the existence of copyright laws, there was a strong relationship between money and the creation of arts and music, and it will be that way until we abolish our system of currency as we now know it. Walk around any great city and witness the existence of hundreds of pieces of commissioned artwork. Listen to the commissioned works of Mozart, Beethoven and other great composers, who existed at the hand of benefactors. Walk through the Museum of Modern Art and look at the works of art generously donated by J. P. Morgan and other benefactors. Whether it be a king or a record label, money benefits art. Creativity, like it or not, is often inspired by the almighty dollar, whether that is represented by paper currency or some other bartered for compensation which meets our base needs as human beings.

That’s not to say that people would not continue to make music or art if they were not compensated for it – they would. That is an entirely different question in my mind. People’s hobbies and past time activities are in a slightly different class than, say, the copyrighted works of Don Henley. If great singer-songwriters such as Henley could not make a living at playing music and writing songs, I would venture to bet that most of us would never had heard of The Eagles. Again, even a great musician has to eat. If the musician cannot meet his base needs doing what he loves to do, a musician will meet those needs some other way and, therefore, there would be less time to do what he loves to do. So don’t confuse the musings of the masses with the creations of the geniuses.

The only legitimate question remaining, then, is how should a musician get paid for the music he or she creates? How should the songwriter get paid for the songs he or she writes? The answer, in the United States, is by virtue of the rights created in the Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, which gives Congress the right:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Investors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

The portion of this Clause dealing with the arts is further codified in the various Copyright Acts and amendments thereto. In a nutshell, the Copyright Act creates a legal fiction, called intellectual property rights, which gives creators certain exclusive rights in their works, including the rights to produce copies, create derivative works, perform or display the work, and to sell and assign the works, among other things.

The laws in the U.S. are based loosely on English concepts and laws that date back to the 17th and 18th century, which were a direct result of the invention of the printing press. The first actual copyright law was the Statute of Anne, or the Copyright Act 1709. Thus, the concept of “copyright” is a three-hundred-year-old concept that has survived the evolution from printing press to piano rolls to digital media, and I have little doubt that it will continue to survive through the technological age, despite the rumblings of these groups.

As the law often does, it must evolve, albeit it ever so slowly, to encompass these new technologies. The good news is that the debate that is ongoing in the new virtual marketplace of idea will help us formulate new and improved amendments to the laws that will hopefully address the perceived dichotomy between the rights of free speech and free culture and those of the creators and owners of intellectual properties to receive just compensation for their efforts and investments.

In the end, this blog is my response to viewing Larry Lessig’s video, as I said, posted today on the TED website, entitled How creativity is being strangled by the law (See the link above). In it, Lessig harkens back to the days of Sousa when children sat on the porch and sang the songs of the day. Lessig told of how Sousa decried the advent of the phonorecord machine as the demise of creativity. He points out that in our current state ot technological advance, copyrights should be “democratized” because the new generation of children use copyrights to create something uniquely different, that is to say they use the copyrights of others as “tools of creativity” and “tools of speech.” Since every such usage requires a copy, the arguement continues, every such usage is presummed by the establishment to be an infringement of someone’s copyright. Lessig’s solution is that the creator should simply license the use of their creation for free in the instance of “non-commercial” usages, and retain the rights to exploit it commercially. He refers to this as the “Sousa Revival.”

My question to Professor Lessig is this: why does the fact that an entire generation of Internet downloaders who are using copyrighted material to create derivative works mean that the rights of copyright holders have to be abolished or even diminished? Why do the creative whims and urges of those who utilize other people’s copyrights to create different, derivative works supercede those of the people who created the original works? Why should they? Are the audiovisual images of a actor portraying Jesus Christ lipsyncing to an infringed copy of “I Will Survive” so creatively valuable as to supercede to the rights of Gloria Gaynor to distribute the original? (This creation is one of the examples in Lessig’s video presentation). Consider this carefully before you answer, as it is a slippery slope.

This brings me to another relevant observation: people would generally not want pay money to hear most children sitting on the porch singing their songs, unless that child happens to be a Don Henley protegee. That is the difference between most of the music ony MySpace, for example, and the music that is generally downloaded on iTunes. There is a tremendous difference in the value of the spontaneous, albeit creative, songs of a child and the intricate lyrics and melodies which are the product of a genius the likes of Don Henley. That is precisely why almost 100% of the product downloaded from Napster in the early days was product that had been recorded and marketed by major record labels. It had intrinsic value.

Let me illustrate these principles with an example from the world of physical property. Person A has a piece of property populated with a lot of trees. Person B, owns the lot next door, which is flat and has a nice stream of water running around its perimeter. Person C comes along, see this situation and, overwhelmed with creativity, cuts down Person A’s trees and builds himself a house on Person B’s lot and claims it as his own. When Persons A and B confront him, stating that the law says he cannot do what he did, Person C responds that his creativity is being strangled by the law and, therefore, the law should be abolished. Is Person C making a good argument? Is Person C likely to prevail in court? No. Yet, this is the argument of the Free Culture Movement and, in some ways, of the Creative Commons.

Just as the law creates real and enforceable property rights for a person who owns a plot of real estate, the law creates intellectual property rights so that person can own an intellectual creation and enforce his rights to the exclusion of those who usurp it. Abolishing the one makes no more sense than abolishing the other. Abolishing the intellectual property right a person has in a copyright, therefore, devalues the creation.

Now, imagine that Person A’s lot was, instead, full of reeds and twigs and Person B’s lot was full of ravines, rocks and arid soil. Person C would never stop to take a second look! The barron options now before Person C would NOT inspire creativity in most people.

As further illustration of this principle of intrinsic value, ask yourself whether the video would be nearly as popular, nearly as creative, if the actor’s own singing voice had been used in place of Gloria Gaynor. The answer is probably no, because the reason that the video of Jesus Christ singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” is so popular is because it incorporates a copyright that already has intrinsic value and, therefore, adds additonal value to the video. The arguments of the free culture movements omit or overlook this concept of intrinsic value. It is because c

What I do like about Lawrence Lessig’s movement, Creative Commons, is that it is, in the final analysis, based on the principles of the Copyright Act, i.e., that the copyright has value and that its owner has certain exclusive rights, which he can assign to others. Lessig’s solution is essentially using existing copyright laws to create a unique license that attempts to strike a balance between fair use and full copyright reservation. In the end, however, the license are based on the rights already granted in The Copyright Act, proving that the copyright laws as they currently exist allow for the very thing that these groups seek. I can agree with him more in that respect.

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For years now, a huge battle has been brewing between proponents of performance royalties for the owners of sound recording copyrights to be paid by terrestrial radio stations (those broadcasting through the air) and it has been gathering steam in the last several months.

The battle is being waged between the giants of industry,  the RIAA, representing the four major record labels, aRep. Michael Conawaynd organizations like the National Association of Broadcasters and the Free Radio Alliance, representing the broadcast radio industry.  The latest round of fire was shot on Oct ober 31, 2007 on behalf of the broadcasters when two Texas lawmakers, Michael Conaway, a Republican, and Gene Green, a Democrat, co-sponsored concurrent resolution H. Con. Res 244, the “Local Radio FRep. Gene Greenree Act.”

 A concurrent resolution is a legislative measure passed by both the House and the Senate generally used to address the sentiments of both chambers with regard to certain matters.  Since they do not have the force of law, concurrent resolutions are generally used to provide for adjournments, recess, use of the Rotunda, and other such matters.  The “Local Radio Free Act” is essentially a policy statement supporting free local broadcast radio and opposing any new performance fees, taxes or royalties for the public performance of sound recordings over the airways.  Ever wonder what is behind all of this noise?

When a company wants to use a sound recording of a musical composition, there are two copyright owners with whom it must deal:  the owner of the musical composition copyright and the owner of the sound recording copyright.  For example, Dolly Parton (or her publishing company) owns the copyright to I will always love you, but two different record companies own the copyright in the sound recordings performed independently by Dolly Parton and, later, by Whitney Houston.  And, of course, one of the rights granted by the Copyright Act to the owner of a copyright is the right to publicly perform the work.

For years, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC have collected the performance royalties on behalf of the composers and writers of the music compositions.  All radio stations, whether terrestrial or digital (over the Internet or Satellite), pay performance royalties for the musical compositions they play over their broadcasts — to the tune of around 500 million dollars per year.  It wasn’t until 1995 and the passage of The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Acts that the public performance right was created in the sound recording of a musical composition.  At that point in time, the digital broadcasters of music, including Satellite and Internet stations, were required to start paying a performance fee to the owners of the sound recording copyright, i.e., the record labels and artists who perform the song.  The Act specifically exempts, however, the local radio stations that broadcast the music over the airways, ostensibly on the grounds that the recording artists and labels were receiving free publicity from the broadcast radio stations in exchange for the use of their sound recording.

Now, with the demise of the CD and the rise of illicit downloading, the record industry is pressing Congress hard to extend the Digital Performance royalty to the local broadcasters and, of course, those broadcasters, with their extremely old and strong political ties, are fighting hard against it. 

The RIAA, for its part, is sending CEO Mitch Bainwol onMitch Bainwol, CEO of RIAA the interview circuit.  Bainwol is consistently hailed by many Washington publications as one of the most powerful and influential lobbyist in Washington.  In an L.A. Times article in which he discussed the performance fee, Bainwol is quoted as saying that “the creation of music is suffering because of declining sales.”  This group has the formidable support of the U.S. Copyright Office, which has support the removal of the exemption for terrestrial stations for many years, and the chair of the House subcommittee on intellectual property, California representative Howard Berman, who is actively pursuing legislation to remove the exemption.

The National Broadcast Association is fighting the RIAA with a barrage of print ads and radio ads in support of their position.  They use the word “tax” as an emotive term to sway people to their side.  The NBA stress that it is the major label conglomerates that would get the bulk of any new performance fees.  The radio broadcasters are a formidable force themselves with corporate entities such as Cox Radio, Citadel, Cumulus, Clear Channel, just to name a few, in opposition to the expansion of the digital performance fee. This new legislation is a result of this group’s hard fought efforts against any new measures, claiming that with profit margins already in the single digits in some instances, a performance tax would obliterate their business.  

In the grand scheme of events, the concurrent resolution is probably a non-event.  It is the efforts of one group’s successful lobbying finding a materialization.  Don’t expect this to be the last word on the subject, however.

 

There appears to be a slight ripple of a trend among courts to take a stricter look at the evidence being presented by the RIAA in its crusade against digital downloads, based primarily on the evidriaa2ence of user names and IP addresses assembled by their expert consultants, MediaSentry. 

In the RIAA’s case against Jeff Dangler, filed in the U. S. District Court for the Western District of New York in Rochester, Dangler failed to file a response to the Complaint, and the Clerk entered the default against him.  Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2), the Plaintiff can then apply to the judge for a judgment based on the default.  In addition, Fed.R.Civ.P 55(b)(2) gives the judge the option to conduct hearings and hear evidence in order to determine if the damages requested are justified.  This gives the judge the opportunity to evaluate the merits of the underlying claim and, if he finds it to be deficient, deny a judgment on the default.

On October 23, 2007, U.S. District Judge David G. Larimer denied a 55(b)(2) request by the RIAA for a default judgment of $6,420 in Atlantic v. Dangler.   Judge Larimer specifically ruled that there were “significant issues of fact” in the record “as to the identification of the defendant from his alleged ‘online media distribution system’ username” heavyjeffinc@KaZaA.  The court points out that there is no evidence presented that established a time period of the alleged distribution and/or infringement nor are there details sufficient to determine whether, in fact, the defendant is the user so identified. 

Because of these deficiencies, Judge Larimer determined that he would hold a hearing to allow the Plaintiffs to establish additional evidence that a copyright violation was committed by the defendant.  You can read the full text of the judge’s order here.

Previously, in August 2007, a similar 55(b)(2) request was denied by Judge Rudi Brewster in Interscope v. Rodriguez in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.  In that case, Judge Brewster held that “Plaintiffs . . . must present at least some facts to show the plausibility of the allegations of copyright infringement against on th[is specific] defendant,” citing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955 (2007) that more than a mere recitation of the elements of a claim are necessary to find relief.   Basing his decision on facts similar in nature to Dangler, Brewster concluded that the RIAA’s complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

These decisions arise in districts where the judges are, generally speaking, more technically saavy than some other districts where these types of issues do not arise as often.  In a somewhat related case, the Ninth Circuit, the appeals court that has jurisdiction over the California district courts, one bankruptcy court has already established stricter standards of proof for establishing the veracity of computer records.  For more information, see the informative article entitled Admitting Computer Record Evidence after In Re Vinhnee:  A Stricter Standard for the Future?, by Cooper Offenbecher.  In short, this article discusses the interplay between Rules 901 and 803(6) of the Federal Rules of Evidence and their application to digital business records.  Essentially, without getting into the details, there is a hearsay exception for business records allowing their admission as evidence in a trial if they are maintained in the regular course of business and are relied upon by the business.   It is these sorts of dialogues that must inform the judges as they scrutinize the evidence presented by the RIAA in support of infringement claims, whether they be in the course of a default judgment or in the course of a trial.

 

RIAA On August 16, 2007, Doe No. 28 in the RIAA’s action captioned Virgin Records America, Inc. et al. v. Does 1-33 filed a motion to squash the subpoena issued to the University of Tennessee on the grounds that, one, it was unreasonable on its face and, two, it violates his rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA").  The memorandum in support of this motion can be read Pike & Fisher’s website, Internet Law & Regulation.  This was a case of first impression, i.e., this is the first time a court has issued a ruling based on this type of facts.

The Subpoena is Unreasonable on its Face

Does No. 28’s primary argument in support of the proposition that the subpoena is unreasonable on its face was that plaintiffs could identify the name of the alleged infringer of the copyrighted sound recordings by being provided with the name and current campus address of Doe No. 28 and, therefore, does not need his permanent address, telephone numbers, e-mail address, and MAC Address, all of which would subject Doe No. 28 and his parents to unreasonable phone calls and mail. 

Plaintiffs countered that this information was necessary in order to uniquely identify Doe No. 28 to the exclusion of other defendants.

The court based its decision in this regard on Rule 45 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which state that a subpoena may be modified if it poses an "undue burden" on the defendant.  The Court held that providing plaintiffs with the requested information was not unduly burdensome since college students are transient by nature and move frequently during their tenure at college, thus making it difficult for plaintiffs to locate Doe No. 28 if only a name and campus address is provided.

The Subpoena violates the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act

In examining this issue, the Court looked at both FERPA and at the University of Tennessee’s FERPA policy, which is posted online here.   The Court found the following:

FERPA broadly defines “educational records” as “those records, files, documents, and other materials which (i) contain information directly related to a student; and (ii) are maintained by an educational agency or institution.”  United States v. Miami University, 294 F.3d 797, 812 (6th Cir. 2002) (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(a)(4)(A)).  Directory information is defined in the statute as “the student’s name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth…” 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(a)(5)(A).  According to the University’s FERPA policy,  directory information is “information not generally considered  harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed.  The University of Tennessee considers the following information to be ‘Directory Information’: Name, semester and permanent address, e-mail address, telephone listing, date and place of birth.”  Office of the University Registrar, What You Should Know About FERPA.  Furthermore, the University’s policy states that it is “not allowed to share  information (other than ‘Directory Information’) without a student’s written consent” and that a student may limit release of directory information by submitting a request for directory exclusion to the University’s registrar.

After summarizing its analysis of FERPA and UT’s policy, the Court surmised that "most of the information [sought by the subpoena] falls within the category of Directory Information under FERPA," with the exception of the MAC address, which identifies the device used by Doe No. 28 to connect to the Internet, and therefore is not protect by FERPA.  With regard to the MAC address, the Court found that it was neither and "educational" record nor "personally identifiable information," and therefore was not protected by the act.

One note of interest in the Court’s order was the revelation that Doe No. 28 had failed to argue that he had issued a "limiting request" as allowed in the University of Tennessee’s FERPA policy.  The Court also made a particular note that the University’s policy did not mention MAC addresses.  This seems to hint that the Court may have issued a slightly different opinion if these factors had been present, leading to the conclusion that students may want to write letters to their respective schools specifically requesting that no "directory information" be provided to third parties and asking that their schools not release MAC addresses as part of directory information and/or include such information in their FERPA policies.

The Court’s full opinion is available online at the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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