Big Victory in Atlantic v. Howell: Court Rejects RIAA "Making Available" Theory
The district court in Atlantic v. Howell today denied the recording industry's motion for summary judgment against Mr. and Mrs. Howell, two lawyer-less defendants caught up in RIAA's litigation campaign against file-sharers. EFF filed an amicus brief on their behalf in the case and participated in oral argument.
In its order, the court delivers the most decisive rejection yet of the recording industry's "making available" theory of infringement (i.e., if someone could have downloaded it from you, you've violated copyright, even if no one ever did). Citing to the recent ruling in London-Sire v. Doe 1, the court concludes that "[t]he general rule, supported by the great weight of authority, is that infringement of the distribution right requires an actual dissemination of either copies or phonorecords." The court goes on to conclude that downloads by the recording industry's own investigator, MediaSentry, are not enough to establish distribution, at least based on the facts of this case (Mr. Howell maintains that, unbeknowst to him, the Kazaa software was sharing his entire hard drive). Finally, the court also suggests that P2P file-sharing may not implicate the distribution right at all, reasoning that what is really going on is a series of reproductions.
The likely next stop for Mr. and Mrs. Howell is a bench trial (neither party asked for a jury trial) in Phoenix, probably in September. EFF will continue to try to find them counsel.