Legal Briefing: Supreme Court Considering Music File-Sharing Case


A daily look at legal news and the business of law:

Supreme Court is Interested in Illegal Downloading of Songs

The Supreme Court doesn't have to hear appeals. It can pick only those it wants to rule on -- which is just a small percentage of the cases before it. As a result, when one side appeals, the other side doesn't always respond. If that happens, however, and the Court is seriously interested in the case, it will ask the other side to speak up. This just occurred in a copyright infringement case involving the illegal file-sharing of music over the Internet, Harper v . Maverick, reports The Blog of the Legal Times.

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College student Whitney Harper was found guilty at trial of illegally file-sharing 37 songs when she was in high school, an activity that would have triggered a minimum penalty of $27,750 ($750/song) unless she was an "innocent infringer" -- unaware that the music she was downloading was copyright protected. In that case, her penalty would be reduced to $7,400. The trial court ruled that she might indeed have been an innocent infringer, and a trial was needed to be sure.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reversed the ruling, finding as a matter of law she wasn't an innocent infringer because the CDs that contain the same music are clearly marked as copyrighted material. As a result, it didn't matter if the teenager thought the downloading she was doing was a variant of Internet radio-streaming, and that the music she downloaded was legitimately available for download; she was on notice the material was copyrighted.

Harper asked the Supreme Court to review this decision, framing the issue as: "Should the inadvertent innocent infringer defense to copyright infringement be eliminated for all Internet music downloading?" The response the Court asked for is due Oct. 15, so it will be a while yet before we learn if the Court wants to craft its own rule about the innocence of music downloaders.

Uncertainty Over Stem Cell Research Suit Could Discourage Scientists from the Field

Even though Judge Royce Lamberth's order stopping all federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is stayed pending appeal, scientists around the country are rethinking research agendas, even entire career paths, because of the decision and the funding uncertainty it creates, reports Bloomberg. As a result, even if the research's opponents ultimately lose their case, they've won a big tactical victory by redirecting substantial talent away from the field.

Wisconsin DA Sexted Women Seeking His Help

A third Wisconsin woman has now stepped forward, alleging that District Attorney Ken Kratzharassed her with sexual text messages after she sought his help with a pardon, reports Above the Law. Keep the revelations coming, folks; if this DA has been abusing his power as casually and frequently as these anecdotes suggest, he needs to be outed and removed from office.

And in the Business of Law

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog notes that associate salaries have recovered -- for the few that get to be associates these days -- even though law firm business hasn't recovered to the same degree.