Former Teen Cheerleader Dinged $27,750 for File Sharing 37 Songs

A federal appeals court is ordering a university student to pay the Recording Industry Association of America $27,750 — $750 a track — for file sharing 37 songs when she was a high school cheerleader. [via wired]

The decision Thursday by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a Texas federal judge who had ordered defendant Whitney Harper to pay $7,400, or $200 per song. The lower court had granted her an “innocent infringer’s” exemption to the Copyright Act’s minimum of $750 per track because she said she didn’t know she was violating copyrights and thought file sharing was akin to internet radio streaming.

The appeals court, however, said the woman was not eligible for such a defense — even if it was true she was between 14 and 16 years old when the infringing activity occurred on Limewire. The reason, the court concluded, is that the Copyright Act precludes such a defense if the legitimate CDs of the music in question provide copyright notices.

“Harper cannot rely on her purported legal naivety [sic] to defeat the … bar to her innocent infringer defense,” the New Orleans-based appeals court ruled unanimously, 3-0.

Harper, now 22 and a Texas Tech senior, said in 2008 interview that she didn’t know what she did was wrong when she file shared Eminem, the Police, Mariah Carey and others as a teen.

“I knew I was listening to music. I didn’t have an understanding of file sharing,” she said.

Scott Mackenzie, the woman’s attorney, said Friday that “She’s going to graduate with a federal judgment against her.” The RIAA, which has sued thousands of people for infringement, labeled Harper as “vexatious” when she refused to settle the case.

Harper’s case moved up the judicial ladder without a trial. Mackenzie said he was mulling whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Only two RIAA cases against individuals have gone to trial, both of which earned the RIAA whopping verdicts.

Most of the thousands of RIAA file sharing cases have settled out of court for a few thousand dollars. The RIAA is winding down its 6-year-old litigation campaign targeting individual file sharers and instead is working with internet service providers to adopt rules that could cut off or hinder internet access to copyright scofflaws.

The first RIAA case to go to trial against an individual concerned Jammie Thomas. A Minnesota jury ordered the woman to pay $1.92 million for file sharing 24 songs. The judge in the case reduced the award to $54,000 — $2,250 a track.

The second case concerns Joel Tenenbaum, a Boston University grad student who a jury ordered to pay $675,000 for file sharing 30 tracks last year. Tenenbaum has asked the judge in the case to lower the award. A decision is pending.

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