ArtsWatch: Thomas-Rasset Damages Reinstated

Complex Court of Appeals ruling reinstates first of three jury verdicts
September 17, 2012 -- 7:07 am PDT
By Philip Merrill /

In recent news ...

On Sept. 11 the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals provided the latest of numerous court rulings dating back to 2007 regarding Jammie Thomas-Rasset, the first consumer to be sued by major labels for online copyright infringement. A $222,000 damages award was imposed by the jury for 24 tracks that were made available online. The clearest consequence of this latest decision is that the lower court has been instructed to reinstate this initial sum and that the constitutionality of the Copyright Act's statutory damages is affirmed. The court's opinion stated, "If and when a jury returns a multimillion dollar award for noncommercial online copyright infringement, then there will be time enough to consider it." Two subsequent jury trials had returned larger awards — $1.92 million and $1.5 million, respectively — but the major labels sought the initial amount because they had hoped for a higher court resolution of the question "whether making works available is part of the distribution right protected by the Copyright Act." This latest court decision completely sidestepped that issue, describing it as unnecessary to the ruling and a question that "has divided the district courts." Thomas-Rasset's counsel announced they will appeal this latest result to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, in May of this year, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the separate second dispute to aggressively contest statutory infringement damages through the court system — namely an award of $675,000 against defendant Joel Tenenbaum.

Search engine giant Google is now censoring "the Pirate Bay" from the autocomplete suggestions it provides users, as reported on Sept. 10. The torrent-linking site has been such a high-profile destination that in years past it was immediately suggested to users who typed in "the p."

In Virginia, on Sept. 9, during the latest round of international negotiations regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, several midday hours were set aside for stakeholder engagement with the negotiators. This was the third effort to hold such an event and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative was able to list numerous quantitative measures demonstrating better support and a higher level of participation. Consumer advocates including Public Knowledge prominently presented their anxieties about the agreement, and stakeholders representing the creative community, including the Copyright Alliance, also made their voices heard.

The first antipiracy court hearing brought by France's HADOPI agency was held on Sept. 13. More are expected under the nation's three-strikes regulation that has generated more than 1 million warning emails to computer users suspected of online copyright infringement. The Belfort Police Tribunal fined a man $193 for neglecting to secure his connection to the Internet, thereby allowing his wife to make unlicensed downloads. Her signed statement confessed to downloading two infringing Rihanna tracks.

On Sept. 6 the international arm of the MPAA and Alibaba Group's signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen the marketplace's antipiracy and anticounterfeiting procedures. Alibaba Group Vice President John Spelich said, "Our takedown system is designed to help intellectual property rights owners protect their rights in accordance with relevant laws and is consistent with systems of other leading e-commerce platforms around the world, but we welcome the consultation with MPA as a way of sharpening the focus and operational approach of that commitment." Earlier this year, China's Ministry of Commerce complained that Taobao had been unfairly included on the U.S. Trade Representative's list of notorious markets. Hopefully these new procedures will result in well-recognized improvements.

PaidContent reported the release of an Aug. 31 report by South Africa's Copyright Review Commission with a news story featuring the headline "Mobile carriers and consumers are all pirates in South Africa." In spite of meaningful existing copyright laws, it seems that enforcement and royalty payments are scandalously low. A new intellectual property policy is presently being drafted incorporating the CRC report's findings, and a meeting between content industry representatives and South Africa's president is anticipated in November. Upon the report's release, South Africa's Minister of Trade and Industry Dr. Rob Davies said, "It is hoped that the creative industry, in particular the music sector, will feel some relief as their plight will be alleviated to a great extent." Separately, on Sept. 9 PricewaterhouseCoopers released a report on South Africa's entertainment and media industry but did not call attention to this problem of royalty payments.

On Sept. 10 European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes delivered an urgent call for pragmatic copyright reform to improve Europe's competitiveness. "Let's not wait for ever faster technology to be ever more constrained by ever more outdated legislation," said Kroes. "Let's not wait for the U.S.A. to speed ahead of Europe."

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

Click on the "ArtsWatch" tag for links to other GRAMMY News stories in this series.

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