Saturday, December 23, 2006

Pro Se Litigant Defeats RIAA's Summary Judgment Motion in Alabama; Court Finds Dispute As to Copying and Distributing

We have just learned of a pro se litigant in Alabama defeating the RIAA's summary judgment motion:

November 9, 2006, Decision Denying Summary Judgment in Motown v. Liggins, 05-cv-273, M.D. Alabama* (also reported at 2006 WL 3257792)

A pro se litigant is a person representing himself, without an attorney.

The court ruled as follows:

[T]here is a genuine issue of material fact that precludes granting summary judgment: whether Defendant copied or distributed any of Plaintiffs' recordings. In his responses to the requests for admissions, Plaintiff did not admit that he copied or distributed any of Plaintiffs' recordings. Plaintiffs have not demonstrated the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, and their motion is therefore due to be denied.

* Document published online at Internet Law & Regulation

Commentary & discussion:

Digital Music The Future

Keywords: digital copyright online download upload peer to peer p2p file sharing filesharing music movies indie label freeculture creative commons pop/rock artists riaa independent mp3 cd favorite songs


StephenH said...


Alter_Fritz said...

may I object to the 2 above commenters dave and stephenh and try to translate courtpaperlanguage in english

RIAA: you bad thief you stole our music!

DEFENDANT: yeah, something like that, but it was different, in fact it was my buddy that downloaded the software and then it was me and him and 20 other guys that used the software AND I was not the one that downloaded the few songs you are suing me for.

RIAA: oh shit, 20 guys and only one screenname, that sounds complicated, dear Court since he played cat and mouse with us, waited very long till he answered us, can we have a DEFAULT judgement please?

COURT: no way lovely RIAA! you are right with regards that he was a bit late and his answeres weren't all the time right at the spot, but he did manage to answer finaly and since he did NOT admitted that HE was the one that downloaded the six(?) songs you are suing him for there is a dispute and you will not get your default judgement. Instead the court orders that the Game may continue. Next step is asking him questions!

So RIAA is not loosing here, but this guy build up only a few more targets beside himself the RIAA might now try to get a hold on to find out who of the 20 guys did infringe the songs the RIAA sued for.

in general correct translation, Ray?

raybeckerman said...

It's true that the defendant didn't win the case. This is just the denial of a summary judgment motion, which means there has to be a trial.

But all by himself, without any lawyers, he defeated a team of lawyers on an important motion. And in so doing he probably guaranteed himself the right to a trial -- and if he asked for a jury, it will be a jury trial.

So to me the important lesson to be learned is: if you are sued by the RIAA, and you are not guilty of copyright infringement, you can fight back, even if you can't get an attorney.

raybeckerman said...

By the way, I should mention that Richard L. Gabriel has appeared in this Alabama case.

Anonymous said...

I really want a jury trial - I can't imagine a jury is going to find for all these big music companies who are being greedy and picking on people who are not really harming their business (in my opinion declining record sales are down to bad management of these labels such as constantly signing bands up and dropping them at great expense).

can anyone seriously imagine a jury awarding damages against a single mother? or someone poor who downloaded a few songs? surely the RIAA want to avoid trial at all costs as a result?

raybeckerman said...

The RIAA appears to have no intention of letting ANY case get to trial.

Anonymous said...

Ray I am wondering when the RIAA bring these suits do you or any other lawyers counterclaim against them?

They seem to be making your lives more difficult so why not to the same? give them so much hassle they don't think its worthit - isn't the best line of defence offence? I know its a sporting maxim but surely if they don't play fair you shouldn't?

Anonymous said...

by the way when I asked about counterclaims I didn't mean for fees or for declaratory judgement of non infringment - I meant something really creative outside the box areas of thinking that would really cause a big headache for the firms representing the RIAA...?

Anonymous said...

Now we're geting somewhere folks! This judge understood perfectly well what kind of evidence the RIAA had and said in essence what the Canadian Supreme Court and the two upper EU courts have said. There isn't enough evidence to grant you even the slightest chance that your evidence is definitive enough to conclude anything.

Its to bad the judge granting the John/Jane Doe warrants to force ISPs to give out personal information didn't understand this from the get go.

In the late 1980;s a recording company executive stood in the music retail department I was managing at the time and called all my customers "pirates" and "thieves" because they were buying blank audio cassettes! This is before the World Wide Web even existed! The RIAA's idea that their own customers are ripping them off is deep seeded and long standing.

There was no way he could know what people were going to do with the audio tape any more than someone can conclude that the CD-WR I purchase will have copied music on it by default

It is sad to see an industry which had been so beneficial at one time (long before any recorded music existed) turn into this kind of racketeering.

Cheers, good luck,

Anonymous said...

While I am dismayed to see the judge's conclusion that "posting or downloading copyrighted music using a file sharing network constitutes copyright infringement" referencing what I believe to be flawed decision making in the BMG v. Gonzalez and MGM v Grockster cases (I still believe there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether these activities should constitute copyright infringement) - it is very pleasing to see that this judge has taken the time to understand and recognize that the RIAA's allegations of copyright infringement are NOT evidence of actual copyright infringement. A genuine issue of fact does exist here, and it is like a breath of fresh air to see the judge acknowledge that.

Still, since the standard for Motion for Summary Judgment is much higher than the standard the RIAA must show at trial (if one should occur) so rejoicing that the RIAA has lost - is premature at best.

raybeckerman said...

Oli said..."by the way when I asked about counterclaims I didn't mean for fees or for declaratory judgement of non infringment - I meant something really creative outside the box areas of thinking that would really cause a big headache for the firms representing the RIAA...? "

Yes there have been some counterclaims of that nature, but I don't know how many of them have survived RIAA's attacks. See Atlantic v. Andersen, Capitol v. Foster, Arista v. Tschirhart.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ray for your response... it seems in the first case you mentioned that no actual desicion has been made by the court as far as I can see from the documents there unless I missed something? in the second the lady wiped the hard drive and the RIAA have yet to let the court know what damages they want? and in the last one the court struck out the counter claim for the tort.

It seems to me that the first case is therefore the most interesting, they have really given the laywers alot of stuff to deal with there - are there any developments in that case I am not aware of? and if that method slows the RIAA then why not use it in every case? Thanks!

raybeckerman said...

I'm not up to date on Atlantic v. Andersen. As I said I don't know which if any survived the RIAA's attacks.

CodeWarrior said...

I agree that it is indeed something to rejoice, that a lone defendant has stood up to the toadies representing the RIAA and at least, precluded a summary judgment. To me, when a jury listens to the facts, if jury nullification does not occur, at least, if you are deciding who to side with, are you gonna side with alligator shoe, Gucci suited weasels, or an "Everyman" who, but for the grace of God, may be you on trial.

God help us all...we have met the enemy of the American public, and they are not Al Qaeda, they are ALL RIAA- duh


CodeWarrior said...

As an addendum, I continue NOT to see how making limited use of allegedly copyrighted material, not for profit, and not claiming to be your own creation, amounts to copyright infringement and not fair use.

As far as I understand, the original tunes that are said to being infringed, were NEVER in MP3 format as copyrighted. MP3 being a LOSSY format, is by definition, not containing all original material, since the MPEG reduces and literally throws away part of the original that was repurposd into an MP3 version.

Thus, an MP3 is a series of ones and zeros, of magnetic and non-magnetic signals. Was this unique combination of ones and zeros, magnetic and non-magnetic signals the real copyrighted material, or was it a series of notes which were parsed in a certain manner, combined with words strung together in a certain order.

Theft of a physical CD which was pressed and sold by a record label, and selling it on the street, certainly may constitute theft AND copyright infringement, especially if the thief were to press a 1000 copies of said CD, but taking a CD you own, ripping it such that you throw away a certain percentage of the original, and translating it into a format that is completely different from the original, placing it into a folder on your hard drive that someone MAY or MAY NOT access, in my mind, is NOT and will NEVER be the same as the person who steals a physcial CD and makes exact copies of it and sells it on the street.

I sincerely believe that there is a right of fair use, and consider it the use of limited amounts of copyrighted material without commercial gain, and usually for critical usage, illustration of a point in a literary or artistic work, etc..

Fair use has been difficult for the courts to nail down in my humble opinion.

But, with regard to the broader question, in the Betamax decision, remember that none other than Jack "the Undead" Valenti, said the following about the VCR...

"At that time he testified before Congress that the VCR was to the movie industry “as the Boston Strangler is to a woman alone.” "

So, the VCR would be to the movie industry like the Boston strangler was to a woman alone eh?

History has shown Valenti to be a fool. Perhaps, if any one thing has saved the movie industry, and has generated millions of dollars worldwide, and given a second life to movies after they made their run through the movie theaters, it has been the VCR, and certainly, Blockbuster and Netflix has made a fortune from this machine .

Copying, NOT merely time shifting, movies from cable channels, has not kept people from renting the same movies at movie stores. In fact, what usually happens, is that the movies appear at the movie stores about the time they debut on HBO or Cinemax.

The Chicken Little approach of the RIAA fools is the same thing. If anything, MP3s are a great promotional device, and if you download a couple of tunes you love, you are more apt to go out and purchase a commercially made copy of a CD compilation of tunes, than you are if you never heard the tunes.

The food industry knows this, and that is why you offer have little tables where food products are offered in sample forms for you to taste, with the idea that, if you like it, you will go purchase a big bag of it.

The RIAA's method is like grabbing a handful of sand with the idea of holding it so tight, it will stay in your grasp. In fact, what happens with same, is the harder you squeeze, the quicker it escapss your grasp.

Word to the wise RIAA toadies!



raybeckerman said...

Happy New Year to Code and to all who support us in this fight.