‘Innocent Infringer’ Smells Blood; Pushes for Full Trial

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The issue of whether ignorance of file-sharing infringement constitutes a reasonable defense has been a hotly debated topic for years. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has consistently maintained that it is not, arguing that individuals who share copyrighted materials without permission are responsible for their actions, regardless of their knowledge of the law. However, a recent case in the US District Court has brought this issue to the forefront once again.

In Maverick v. Harper, US District Court judge Xavier Rodriguez offered a $200-per-track settlement resolution to defendant Whitney Harper, who admitted to sharing 37 songs through Kazaa while still a teenager. Harper was oblivious to the legal aspects of file-sharing infringement, and in consideration of the innocent infringer defense, Judge Rodriguez sympathized with her situation. However, the RIAA was initially uninterested in the compromise, though they have since accepted the proposal.

Unfortunately, Harper’s lawyer, Donald Mackenzie, is now pushing for a full trial, which comes at a vulnerable point for the RIAA. Judge Michael J. Davis recently ordered a retrial in Capitol v. Thomas, a major RIAA victory, based on questionable evidence gathering techniques. Specifically, Davis reversed earlier instructions to the jury that tied infringement to the act of making content available through applications like Kazaa – instead of actually downloading the copyrighted works in question. This change in instruction alters the legal landscape and spells serious opportunity for an ambitious attorney like Mackenzie.

“This case is not just a solitary matter lingering on a docket; rather it is a potential fulcrum for many others who are currently ensnared in this massive portion of the Federal Judicial case load,” Mackenzie expressed in a recent filing. In other words, if Mackenzie is successful in arguing that ignorance of file-sharing infringement constitutes a reasonable defense, it could have far-reaching implications for other cases and defendants.

The issue of ignorance and file-sharing infringement is not a new one. Some argue that individuals who share copyrighted materials without permission are responsible for their actions, regardless of their knowledge of the law. Others argue that individuals who are not aware that their actions constitute infringement should not be held liable. The innocent infringer defense, which was considered in Harper’s case, provides some protection for individuals who unknowingly infringe on copyrighted materials.

However, the innocent infringer defense is not an absolute defense, and its application varies depending on the circumstances of each case. In Harper’s case, Judge Rodriguez was sympathetic to her situation as a teenager who was not aware of the legal implications of file-sharing infringement. However, not all judges may be as lenient, and the innocent infringer defense may not always be successful.

Ultimately, the issue of whether ignorance of file-sharing infringement constitutes a reasonable defense will continue to be debated. While some argue that individuals should be held responsible for their actions, regardless of their knowledge of the law, others argue that individuals who are not aware that their actions constitute infringement should not be held liable. The innocent infringer defense provides some protection for individuals who unknowingly infringe on copyrighted materials, but its application varies depending on the circumstances of each case.