The RIAA argued that any “sound recording” that is ripped to a PC and is made available to share constitutes has unauthorized distribution. However, U.S. District Judge Neil V. Wake rejected the notion that making something available to others on a file-sharing network does not violate any copyright. Wake ruled there was no evidence of infringement. Merely making content available is an attempt to infringe, but attempted infringement is not illegal.
The RIAA asked damages for 42 songs made available in Jeffery Howell’s shared Kazaa folder. MediaSentry, a contractor for the RIAA, had downloaded 12 of the 42 songs made available. While there was no question that Howell had music available, Judge Wake demanded proof from the RIAA that someone actually downloaded each song and that the defendant had intentionally place the music under his shared folder.
Howell admitted to installing Kazaa for adult content, freeware, and e-books, but claims the Kazaa software shared his music without this knowledge, music he ripped from his CDs.
It’s worth noting that this is a complete reversal of a previous ruling Judge Wake made last August, where Wake ruled the mere presence of copyrighted works was enough for liability. This new ruling sets a higher bar for the RIAA to reach for when trying to prove infringement violations against file sharers and potentially may force record labels to rethink their strategy. The new decision adds to the growing number of rulings that make infringement cases against file-sharers much more difficult to win for the RIAA.
The RIAA indicated that it could appeal and will look towards all options going forward.