Student fined $27K for file-sharing music

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has won a $27,750 settlement against a university student who reportedly downloaded and shared 37 copyrighted songs when she was in high school.

Student Whitney Harper originally was ordered to pay just $7,400 ($200 per song) by a Texas federal judge — but the RIAA took the case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Although the Copyright Act seeks $750 per track, Harper was given a lighter monetary fine after she said she was unaware she was violating copyright.  According to legal documents, she reportedly believed downloading music was similar to radio streaming.

The reason the appeals court refused that defense was that Copyright Act violators couldn’t claim innocent infringement if music CDs offer copyright disclaimers.

According to the legal document:  “Harper cannot rely on her purported legal naivety [sic] to defeat … the bar to her innocent infringer defense,” the court wrote.

The premise of being able to fine someone $750 per song because they were supposed to learn about copyright infringement due to warnings on CDs seems a bit over-the-line.  Re-educating teenagers should have been the first step the RIAA made, but the group instead began filing lawsuits.

Supposedly, the RIAA is no longer suing individual file sharers by filing John Doe lawsuits, and will now instead try to force ISPs to monitor their users.  This allows the RIAA to save resources while also leaving the dirty work up to the ISPs — a win-win for the RIAA, as the trade group looks to focus on ways to overcome current CD sales problems.  Most people settled out of court for a fee up to $8,000, and people who decided to go to court ended up with heavier fines.

A possible three-strike law may be in the works for the future, but it hasn’t been widely discussed in the United States as of late.