Mavrick Recording Co. v Harper

Mavrick Recording Co. v Harper
598 F.3d 193 (5th Cir. 2010)
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

In June 2004, MediaSentry, a company retained by Plaintiffs to investigate the infringement of their copyrights over the Internet, identified an individual using a file-sharing program to share 544 digital audio files with other users of a peer-to-peer network. The shared audio files included a number of Plaintiffs' copyrighted sound recordings. By tracing the user's Internet protocol address, Plaintiffs ultimately identified Harper as the individual responsible for the file sharing.

To ensure that each of the 544 audio files was a downloadable file, MediaSentry initiated a download of the entire group. The company captured screen shots showing all of the files that Harper was sharing. It also captured the metadata associated with each file, which included the name of the artist and song. This information allowed Plaintiffs to identify those sound recordings on which they held a copyright. MediaSentry fully downloaded six of the audio files from Harper's "shared folder." Subsequent discovery indicated that Harper had downloaded all of the files from the Internet to the computer without paying for them, and that she had not copied, or "ripped," any of the songs from compact discs that she had bought legally.

During discovery, Plaintiffs examined Harper's computer. The examination showed that its operating system had been reinstalled in 2005. As a result, most of the files present on the computer in 2004, when MediaSentry performed its investigation, had been overwritten. The forensic examination did show that three file-sharing programs had been installed and
used on the computer, including a program known as LimeWire, which had been used after the operating system was reinstalled. It also revealed a new cache of approximately 700 recordings downloaded since the reinstallation. Fifteen of the copyrights that Plaintiffs' second amended complaint alleged that Harper infringed came from this newly discovered cache.

The Plaintiff brought an infringement suit in the Western District of Texas against the Defendant. The District Court granted Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on their copyright claims for 37 audio files. The Defendant asserted that her infringement was "innocent" under § 504(c)(2), which provides that "where the 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." The District Court denied Plaintiffs' request for statutory damages since it determined that there was a triable issue as to whether the defendant was an innocent infringer. The District Court found that the Defendant infringed Plaintiffs' exclusive rights to both reproduce and distribute the 37 songs on which they held a copyright. The Defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The 5th Circuit affirmed the infringement finding and reversed the innocent infringer determination, holding that the defense is unavailable to the Defendant as a matter of law.

Whether Plaintiffs made an undisputed showing that Harper had downloaded the remaining 16 (of 37) audio files.

Whether Harper's actions violated the Copyright Act.

Whether the Innocent Infringer Defense is available to Harper.

Sufficiency of Evidence
The District Court found the Plaintiffs had established the existence of 37 audio files that had been downloaded to the Defendant's computer. Other than the 6 downloaded in full from her computer in 2004, and the 15 found on her hard drive in 2008, the defendant questions the 16 files which were contained on the defendant's computer in 2004, shared over the internet, and presumably contained in the screen shot, but not downloaded by MediaSentry. The 5th Circuit found that between the screenshot, the metadata, and the fact that the defendant had not submitted evidence that casts doubt upon whether the files existed on her computer by way of downloading, there was sufficient evidence to support a finding of summary judgment for Plaintiff's on the issue.

The District Court granted summary judgment to plaintiffs on two types of infringement, by reproducing, and "making available tantamount to distribution." Although the defendant calls into question whether making available is equivalent to distribution, the court declines to address the question. According to the court, since the plaintiff is only seeking minimum statutory damages, all that needs to be determined is whether defendant's actions violated the Copyright Act, not how or to what extent they violated it. Since the plaintiff has not challenged the infringement by reproduction, and it has been established that the defendant downloaded 37 copyrighted works, the defendant's actions constituted infringement.

Innocent Infringer Defense
The District Court found there was a question of fact as to whether the innocent infringer defense had been established and ordered a jury trial to determine the issue. If the defendant is found to be an innocent infringer, the minimum statutory damages available to the plaintiff would be lowered, at the court's discretion, from $750 per infringing work to $200. The District Courts determination rested on the affidavit of the defendant that she thought downloading the files was just like listening to the songs on a non-infringing internet radio station. The court cites 17 U.S.C. § 402 limiting the innocent infringer defense when a notice of copyright is on a copyrighted work and the defendant had access to the notice. Rather than challenge whether the defendant had access to the notice of copyright, the defendant claims that the she was too young and naive to understand that copyrights apply to downloaded music.

The 5th Circuit found that the subjective intent of the infringer has no application on the innocent infringer defense, and so long as there was a notice of copyright which the defendant had access to, the defense cannot apply. The court held as a matter of law that the defendant did not have the innocent infringer defense available to her.

The court affirmed the district courts ruling on infringement holding that the defendant infringed 37. The court, however, reversed the District Courts finding that there was a triable issue of whether the defendant was an innocent infringer and held that the defendant was not an innocent infringer as a matter of law, that she infringed 37 copyrighted works, and the Plaintiff is entitled to the minimum statutory damages of $750 per work infringed.

The Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari, however, Justice Alito disagreed with the denial of certiorari and wrote an opinion relating to the order of denial.
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