Category Archives: Internet Law

Nothing left to lose – the ongoing war on copyrights

Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster once penned one of my favorite lyrics in the song Me and Bobby McGee, i.e., “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  The sentiment is perhaps appropriate for the ongoing war that is being waged against copyright laws as we know them.  The latest battle in this war was fired by the esteemed Lawrence Lessig, famous lawyer and copyright scholar, in his new book Remix: Making Art & Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.  If Lessig has his way, the songwriter and music publisher will, indeed, have nothing left to lose.

Remix Lawrence Lessig The main goal of the book is the demolishment of existing copyright laws, which Lessig has described as Byzantine.  He believes our current copyright laws are futile, costly and culturally stifling. The "hybrid economy" is described by Lessig as one in which a “sharing economy” coexists with a “commercial economy.”  See this very humorous interview by Stephen Colbert.  He gives examples such as YouTube, Flikr and Wikipedia, which rely on user-generated "remixes" of information, images and sound to illustrate his point.  This “hybrid economy,” in Lessig-speak, is identical to what he calls a "Read/Write (RW)" culture — as opposed to "Read/Only (RO)" — i.e., a culture in which consumers are allowed to "create art as readily as they consume it."  Thus, the “remix” to which he refers is the concept of taking another persons copyrighted work and “making something new” or “building on top of it.”  This is what us less-published copyright lawyers like to refer to as a derivative work!  And that is the crux of Lessig’s problem:  the copyright law DOES in fact make provision for this type of creative endeavor, provided that the creator of the derivative work gains the permission of the copyright owner.  This is that with which Lessig seeks to do away.

In the Colbert interview, Lessig drolly points out that 70% of our kids are sharing files illegally and that the “outdated” copyright laws are “turning them in to criminals.”  This reminds me just a bit of what my Daddy used to tell me: just because everybody’s doing it doesn’t make it right!   Or, as Colbert blithely responded, “isn’t that like saying arson laws are turning our kids into arsonists?”  The obvious conclusion is that perhaps the law is simply not the problem.

Colbert then comically crosses out Lessig’s name on the cover of his his advance copy of Lessig’s book, draws a picture of Snoopy inside, and then questions Lessig as to whether the book was now his (Colber’t’s) work of art, to which Lessig says “that’s great,” we “jointly” own the copyright.  That’s a point to which Lessig’s publisher, Penguin Press, would surely not acquiesce.  In the final retort to Lessig, Colbert makes the point that he likes the current system, and I quote, “the system works for me.”  I might add that the system seems to be working extremely well for Lawrence Lessig as well.  Lessig is making a fortune exploiting the very system he criticizes as antiquated – the very essence of free speech, I suppose, but in the final analysis, a bit disingenuous.

While I do admire Professor Lessig for working toward a solution to a perceived problem, it’s very difficult to believe that tearing down the entire system of copyright laws in order to accommodate a large percentage of prepubescent teenagers who are too cheap to pay for their music is the appropriately measured response we need in this instance.   Call me crazy.

Here are several good critiques of Lessig’s work and ideas here for further exploration of this issue:

The Future of Copyright, by Lawrence B. Solum (download PDF from this page)

Lessig’s call for a “simple blanket license” in Remix, by Adam Thierer

Copyright in the Digital Age, by Mark A. Fischer

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I am now listed at Avvo.com with a 9.3 rating out of a possible 10. Please take the time to check out my information there and, if you’re a past client or a colleague, give me a recommendation. It would be greatly appreciated.

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PassAlong Networks gets cash infusion

Word is spreading on the Internet about PassAlong Networks, Inc.’s recent infusion of investment capital.  PassAlong is a digital music distribution and sharing service aptly headquartered in Franklin, Tennessee.  According to VentureWire, the company plans to close a $30 million funding round later this month.

PassAlong, also known as the Tennessee Pacific Group, LLC, was founded in 2002 by former Microsoft executive, Dave Jaworski and, Scott Lewis, an independent entrepreneurDave Jaworskier.  Mr. Jaworski’s blog, Can’t Stop the Music, can be found here.  The company raised $40 million in start up monies from angel investors – an unusually substantial amount from individual investors – and also raised another $10 million in investment capital in April 2007.

Music veteran Jeff Skillen recently went to work for the company as their VP of Entertainment Relations.

PassAlong has a patent pending on its media service engine architecture, which is designed to work across all operating systems and platforms and is device-independent.  It launched its first digital music download store on e-Bay in September 2004

The company has digital music catalog agreements with all four major record labels: Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, EMI, and Sony/BMG.  The PassAlong catalog includes nearly 3 million songs, including not only catalog from the majors, but also nearly 2 million independent songs in MP3 format.  Most of its music is either DRM or MP3, and the company became certified by Microsoft PlayforSure in December 2004.

The music-sharing services gets its name from the fact that it allows consumers to recommend music to friends with links to song clips sent through email and instant messaging services from AOL, MSN and Yahoo. PassAlong

PassAlong Network Inc.’s portfolio of other products, many of  which are interactive, includes:

StoreBlocks, an online platform of tools and templates for building digital music/media stores, including PassAlong’s library of songs from the four major labels and MP3 files from independent artists.  This system currently powers 120 digital music stores, including Proctor and Gamble’s Julie’s Jukebox;

OnTour, is an award-winning family of concert notification applications, widgets and websites;

freedomMP3, is a “non-DRM” solution, providing protection technology and media tracking services designed to safeguard artists’ rights without hindering consumer rights via interoperability;.

Skylocker is a media storage and market-management platform;

Speakerheart a subsidiary of PassAlong, is an exciting independent-artist publishing and promotion system; and

Connected Consumer, a series of platforms and services aimed at enhancing the connected consumer experience.

Look for this exciting company to go places on the web.

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Second Circuit gets it wrong in Cartoon Network v. Cablevision

On August 4, 2008, the Second Circuit court of appeals overturned a lower courts opinion that Cablevision’s Remote Storage” Digital Video Recorder (“RS-DVR”) system violated the Copyright Act by infringing plaintiffs’ exclusive rights of reproduction and public performance.  The full 44-page opinion is available at Cartoon Network, LLP, et al. v. Cablevision.  In my humble yet fully animated opinion, the Second Circuit’s opinion was not at all well reasoned nor, for that matter, even common sense — I believe it misinterprets at three very important areas of the Copyright Act and interpretation thereof:

When is a work “Fixed” According to Section 101

Through a system of buffers, Cablevision’s RS-DVR will allow customers who do not own stand alone DVR’s to record programming, which resides on Cablevision’s servers, and “time-shift” it to view it at a later date.  Certainly a great concept, but one which, in my opinion, should require authorization from the owners of the copyrights. 

In arriving at its conclusion, the court determined that the buffer used to process the steam of data only “copies” the data for a duration of 1.2 seconds, before transferring it to another buffer used to reconstruct a copy of the program for any customer who has asked to view it at a later time.  The court concluded that this “embodiment,” i.e. the copy, was transitory in duration and therefore not “fixed” pursuant to Section 101 of the Copyright Act.  Therefore, the copyright owners’ right of reproduction was not violated.  This is clearly erroneous reasoning:

The definition of “fixed” in Section 101 of the Copyright Act states, in its entirety:

A work is “fixed” in a tangible medium of expression when its embodiment in a copy or phonorecord, by or under the authority of the author, is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration. A work consisting of sounds, images, or both, that are being transmitted, is “fixed” for purposes of this title if a fixation of the work is being made simultaneously with its transmission.

In arriving at its determination, the Second Circuit focused on its condensed version of the definition, i.e. a work is “fixed” when its embodiment “. . . sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be . . . reproduced . . . for a period of more than transitory duration.”  The court concluded, based on this shortened version of the definition, that the “language plainly imposes two distinct but related requirements, i.e. an “embodiment requirement” and a “duration requirement.”

The Second Circuit’s error is grammatical in nature:  it misinterprets the language of the definition of “fixed” by assuming that the phrase “for a period of more than transitory duration” modifies the words “permanent or stable” when in fact it actually modifies the antecedent phrase “permit it to be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated.”  This is certainly the case with regard to the RS-DVR – it fixes the copies for in sufficiently permanent state in one buffer (i.e. the 1.2 seconds) to permit them to be reproduced in another buffer for a period of more than transitory duration.  Thus, the court got it wrong.

Without getting into too much detail, the court also incorrectly analyzes a 9th Circuit cases, MAI Systems and its progeny which correctly apply the definition of fixed to a copy of a work created in RAM memory for a period of minutes.  The effect of this misinterpretation is to put legal practitioners in the precarious position of trying to determine at what point between 1.2 seconds and 2 minutes does a reproduction arrive at a “more than transitory” state.

Ironically, the Second Circuit ignores the U.S. Copyright Office’s analysis of this precise issue in its 2001 report on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which elaborated that a work was fixed “unless a reproduction manifests itself so fleetingly that it cannot be copied, perceived or communicated.”  This clarification is in line with my earlier interpretation that the phrase “more than transitory in duration” modifies the communication or perception, not the embodiment itself.  The Second Circuit stated that, in its mind, the U.S. Copyright Office’s interpretation “reads the ‘transitory duration’ language out of the statute.”  To the contrary, however, it is the correct interpretation in that it incorporates the transitory duration requirement into the appropriate section of the definition.

Finally, the Second Circuit completely ignores the last sentence of the definition, to wit:  A work . . . is “fixed” for purposes of this title if a fixation of the work is being made simultaneously with its transmission.”  In this instance, the court readily admitted that an unauthorized copy of the work was stored, i.e. “fixed” on Cablevision’s servers simultaneously with its transmission.

When is an infringer not an infringer?

In extending recent trends by some circuits to weaken the strict liability component of the Copyright Act, the Second Court refused to find that Cablevision was a direct infringer.  Instead, it rules that the customer is the direct infringer in this instance of digital recording, showing his or her intent to make a copy when he or she presses the record button on the remote.  The court reasons as follows:

In this case . . . the core of the dispute is over the authorship of the infringing conduct.  After an RS-DVR subscriber selects a program to record, and that program airs, a copy of the program–a copyrighted work–resides on
the hard disks of Cablevision’s Arroyo Server, its creation unauthorized by the copyright holder. The question is who made  this copy. If it is Cablevision, plaintiffs’ theory of direct infringement succeeds; if it is the customer, plaintiffs’ theory fails because Cablevision would then face, at most, secondary liability, a theory of liability expressly disavowed by plaintiffs.

Emphasis mine.  The first thing to note about the court’s conclusion is that it realizes, right off the bat, that the copy created on the servers of Cablevision is an infringement.  In its mind, however, the only question is who made the copy.  Now, that, of course, flies directly in the face of a host of copyright concepts which I will not address here, but suffice it to say that this is problematic.

But, for the moment, let’s just examine how the court ultimately determines who had the “volition” to infringe in this specific case:

There are only two instances of volitional conduct in this case: Cablevision’s conduct in designing, housing, and maintaining a system that exists only to produce a copy, and a customer’s conduct in ordering that system to produce a copy of a specific program. In the case of a VCR, it seems  clear–and we know of no case holding otherwise–that the operator of the VCR, the person who actually presses the button to make the recording, supplies the necessary element of volition, not the person who manufactures, maintains, or, if distinct from the operator, owns the machine. We do not believe that an RS-DVR customer is sufficiently distinguishable from a VCR user to impose liability as a direct infringer on a different party for copies that are made automatically upon that customer’s command.

The court then continues its analysis by example, offering the examples of a retailer who owns a photocopier and rents it out to the public as reinforcement of its conclusion, finding that because the retailer would not be liable for infringement, neither should Cablevision.   Despite the fact that there is case law holding that such a retailer WOULD, in fact, be liable for infringement, the Second Circuit errs in failing to see the difference between a VCR in the analog world, a single, stand-alone device used express by the customer, and a process devised by a company which makes infringement as simple as pressing my record button on my remote.  The court does not find this a “sufficient” distinction.  The court’s error in logic is apparent in this prose when it examines a 6th Circuit case on the issue:

In determining who actually “makes” a copy, a significant difference
exists between making a request to a human employee, who then volitionally operates the copying system to make the copy, and issuing a command directly to a system, which automatically obeys commands and engages in no volitional conduct.

Is this 2001 Space Odyssey?  Did H.A.L. take over when I wasn’t looking?  Who programmed the system?  

If this were not enough, the Second Circuit then performs a great deal of legal gymnastics to support its finding:  First, it examines the video on demand process to illustrate that Cablevision does not have control over the transmissions being recorded by the subscribers in the RS-VCR system.  Are they for real?  Ever heard of apples and oranges.  The VOD system is a fully licensed process which is, dare we say it, nothing like the RS-VCR system.  Secondly, the Second Circuit uses the distinction between “active” and “passive” infringement under the Patent Act to jump to the almost humorous, if it weren’t so wrong, conclusion that:

If Congress had meant to assign direct liability to both the person who actually commits a copyright-infringing act and any person who actively induces that infringement, the Patent Act tells us that it knew how to draft a statute that would have this effect.

Every intellectual property attorney worth his or her salt knows that the Copyright Act and the Patent Act are very limited in their usefulness for purposes of using one to interpret the other.  That’s why it’s said that the Copyright Act is a strict liability statute, whereas, the Patent Act is not so much.

When is work “publicly performed”?

The final error committed by the court is in its analysis of whether the buffered copy delivered to individual customers was “publicly performed.” In this regard, the Second Circuit concluded:

under the transmit clause, we must examine the potential audience of a given transmission by an alleged infringer to determine whether that transmission is “to the public.” And because the RS-DVR system, as designed, only makes transmissions to one subscriber using a copy made by that subscriber, we believe that the universe of people capable of receiving an RS-DVR transmission is the single subscriber whose self-made copy is used to create that transmission.

Again, the Second Circuit has to do a hatchet job on the definition of “public performance” in order to arrive at this convoluted conclusion.  The definition of “public performance” in the Copyright Act is actually found in the “publication” definition of Section 101.  It states, in its entirety:

To perform or display a work “publicly” means — 

(1) to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered; or

(2) to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work to a place specified by clause (1) or to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times.

Emphasis mine.  Whereas the Second Circuit zeroed in on the phrase “to the public” in making its determination, the definition clearly intends to define public performance as any process that allows the public, in general, the ability to receive the transmission, whether or not it is in the same place or the same time.  Its not very difficult to see the fallacy of the Second Circuit’s reasoning.   The Cablevision RS-DVR clearly does precisely what the definition anticipates, it creates multiple copies stored in the buffers for individual subscribers in multiple places, who then view the (buffered) transmissions at different times. 

While this seems simple, the Second Circuit jumps through numerous irrational hoops to arrive at the idea that:

the transmit clause directs us to identify the potential audience of a given transmission, i.e., the persons “capable of receiving” it, to determine whether that transmission is made “to the public.”

Nothing in the statute dictates this conclusion, to the contrary, the legislators probably thought that the word “public” was generic enough to not need interpretation. 

The effect of this ruling, at least for now, is that anyone can make digital copies of any copyrighted work on their servers for purposes of transmitting to an individual customer, so long as that individual customer makes a request for it, and there is no implication of the performance rights.

This is a fine example of a court “reasoning” the meaning completely out of a statute. 

Conclusion

If it is not obvious by now, I think this is one of the most poorly reasoned and drafted opinions by a Circuit Court that I have read in a long time.  If there is a bright side, it is that the effect of this decision is primarily that it overturns the grant of a summary judgement by the lower court.  From a broader perspective, however, and the more unfortunate result is that, because of the concept of stare decisis, this reasoning can now be cited in other cases in other jurisdictions across the country as good law.  So, unfortunately, we entertainment attorneys will be dealing with the negative impact of this decision for some time to come, until perhaps some higher court, in this case the Supremes, decides to rectify it.

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Taking a Bite out of Apple: iPhone Hackers File Lawsuits

Posted with the permission of the author Matthew Williams, EsquireMatthew is an intellectual property attorney practicing with the firm of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.  All rights reserved.

Apple’s release of the iPhone in June 2007 was an unqualified business success – 1.4 million iPhones were sold in just a few months. However, as has become the norm when a business is successful, several legal problems have arisen for Apple and its telecommunications partner, AT&T. Many of these problems began shortly after the iPhone’s release, when a New Jersey teenager announced that he had circumvented the technological ‘lock’ that renders the iPhone inoperable with wireless telephone carriers other than AT&T. The hacking of the iPhone received almost as much press attention as its release and Apple estimates that as many as 250,000 iPhones have been unlockedapple_iphone

In response, Apple issued a press release which warned consumers that modifying iPhones in order to switch wireless carriers could damage the product and void Apple’s warranty. Apple also announced that future Apple software updates would likely render modified iPhones permanently inoperable. Shortly afterwards, an Apple software update did just that. Predictably, two class action lawsuits alleging unfair competition and antitrust claims were filed against Apple in October 2007: one, which also names AT&T as a defendant, in the US District Court for the Northern District of California,(1) and one in the California Superior Court in the County of Santa Clara.(2)

Among other things, the complaints allege that consumers may unlock iPhones legally on the basis of a November 2006 regulation promulgated by the librarian of Congress regarding exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s prohibition against circumventing technological protection measures. Furthermore, the complaints allege that the software update issued by Apple, rendering thousands of iPhones inoperable, was an illegal effort to prevent consumers from exercising this exception.

Whether the unlocking of iPhones fits within the librarian of Congress’s exception to the act depends on the answers to a number of difficult questions. It is far from clear that unlocking an iPhone is legal. The librarian crafted narrow language which limits the exception to circumstances in which “circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network”. 

At least one court(3) has ruled that unlocking a mobile phone for the purpose of reselling it to third parties violates the act and does not fall within the exception; fearing that many of the iPhone hackers purchased multiple iPhones for resale, Apple recently limited the number of iPhones that an individual may purchase and stopped accepting cash for iPhones. Determining whether the librarian’s exception applies to unlocking iPhones and, if so, how many of the class members involved in the cases fall within the scope of the exception are likely to be central issues. Copyright owners should follow these cases carefully, especially because the anti-circumvention provisions of the act are infrequently interpreted and are often critical to many business models.

Endnotes

(1) Holman v Apple, Inc.

(2) Smith v Apple, Inc.

(3) In TracFone Wireless, Inc v Dixon, 475 F Supp 2d 1236 (MD Fla 2007).

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Columnist David Pogue sings a humorous diddy about the RIAA

New York Times technology columnist and Emmy-award winning CBS news correspondent David Pogue is featured in this YouTube video singing a fun diddy about the digital wave of media on the Internet, ending with a humorous take on the RIAA and its wave of litigation against college students nationwide.  Enjoy

 

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Atlantic Records et al. v. Brennan: Federal Judge Denies Default Judgment for RIAA

U.S. District Judge for the District of Connecticut  Justice Janet Bond Arterton, handed down a very pointed and decisive opinion hammering the R.I.A.A. for its boilerplate style of pleading in the nationwide wide campaign against illegal file sharing.   Justice Arterton was appointed by President Clinton in 1995.  The full decision is here:  Decision.  At several key junctures in the opinion, JusticeRIAA Arterton based her opinion on the fact that the Plaintiff’s complaint was based on “information and belief” rather than direct evidence.

The two areas of concern in the opinion, one is whether to grant a default judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2) and the second is whether the complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b).

Default Judgment Analysis under Rule 55(b)(2)

The granting of default judgment is generally almost a “rubber stamp” kind of process.  If the defendant is properly served and fails to respond to the complaint, a default judgment is almost always automatic.  If the complaint demands an exact amount as judgment, the default judgment can even be entered by the court’s clerk under Rule 55(b)(1).  If not, then the court holds a hearing to determine the amount of damages under Rule 55(b)(2).  In this instance, however, the court stepped in and took it upon herself to examine the validity of the claims.

Reasoning from a 2nd Circuit case, Au Bon Pain Corp.v. Artect, Inc., 653 F.2d 61 (2d Cir. 1981), the court found that the default judgment process is not, in fact, automatic, but that “a district court has discretion . . . to require proof of necessary facts and need not agree that the alleged facts constitute a valid cause of action.”  Artect, at 65, citing Wright & Miller, a well known legal treatise on procedure. 

Looking a another legal treatise, Moore’s Federal Practice, Justice Arterton reasoned that the analysis should combine elements from Rule 55(c), the rule allowing the setting aside of a default judgment, and Rule 60(b), a more generic rule allowing  a court to set aside judgments.  Finding support for this analysis in 2nd Circuit case law, the court held that three factors arose in determining whether to set aside a judgment under either of the two rules:  (1) “the willfulness of default”; (2) “the existence of a meritorious defense”; and (3) “the possibility of prejudice to the plaintiffs should the default judgment be vacated.”

In weighing these factors, the judge determined that the latter two factors shifted in favor of the defendant, i.e., there were abundant meritorious defenses raised in similar cases filed by the RIAA across the country, and the Plaintiff would not be prejudiced by being required to produce more specific evidence.  In both instances, the court again mentioned the language that the Plaintiff’s complaint was based on “information and belief.”

Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can be Granted under Rule 12(b)(6)

The more telling section of the opinion is the court’s ostensibly sua sponte (i.e., of its own accord) analysis of whether the Plaintiff’s complaint failed to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  This rule generally gives the defendant a right to raise this defense in a response to a complaint.  scales5 Ostensibly, the court raised this issue in the context of possible meritorious defenses.

Justice Arterton cites the recent Supreme Court opinion that a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, [but] a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions.”  Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964–65 (2007).  She then observed that Plaintiff’s complaint in this case was almost identical to the one filed in Interscope Records v. Rodriguez, where the court held:

Plaintiff here must present at least some facts to show the plausibility of their allegations of copyright infringement against the Defendant. However, other than the bare conclusory statement that on “information and belief” Defendant has downloaded, distributed and/or made available for distribution to the public copyrighted works, Plaintiffs have presented no facts that would indicate that this allegation is anything more than speculation. The complaint is simply a boilerplate listing of the elements of copyright infringement without any facts pertaining specifically to the instant Defendant. The Court therefore finds that the complaint fails to sufficiently state a claim upon which relief can be granted and entry of default judgment is not warranted.

Rodriguez, No. 06-2485, 2007 WL 2408484, at *1 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 17, 2007).  Citing the Second Circuit case Greyhound Exhibit Group, Inc. v. E.L.U.L. Realty
Corp., 973 F.2d 155, 158 (2d Cir. 1992), which held that the entry of default “constitute[s] a concession of all well pleaded allegations of liability,” Justice Arterton ruled that Plaintiff’s complaint was “speculative” and “inadequate.”

Eric Bangeman, of Ars Technica reports that the RIAA plans to file a brief, probably accompanying a motion for reconsideration, and possible an amended complaint, as they did in Interscope v. Rodriguez.  The amended complaint provided additional details about dates, times, and IP addresses.  Whether the additional details of that amendment will alter the application of Rule 12(b)(6) is still unknown, as the judge in that case has since retired.

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