RIAA backs away from one file-sharing case

Court documents from late May indicate the RIAA asked for the dismissal of a case that would have argued whether simply making one's files available for download constitutes copyright infringement.

RIAA sued Joan Cassin in April 2006, after its MediaSentry program detected a Kazaa account linked to her was sharing 406 files. Cassin's lawyers objected, and filed a motion to dismiss the case questioning the merits last year.

They argued that simply making a file available for download did not constitute infringement. It appears that RIAA had no actual evidence of piracy occurring, and may have been spooked by similar cases now making their way through the courts.

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In the past few months, judges have thrown out at least two cases because the RIAA has failed to prove there was actual file distribution. In a high-profile case last April, an Arizona judge overturned his own decision, finding that infringement requires distribution. Somebody actually needs to download a file whose content is protected by copyright -- and proof of that transfer needs to exist -- in order for the rights holder to claim infringement.

Such rulings may have been the reason for the group's move. It has asked for a dismissal of the case "without prejudice," which means both sides are responsible for their own legal fees, and the plaintiffs can file against Cassin again on the subject if they feel they have a case.

The motion was filed on May 27, and was approved on June 4 by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. It just so happens that this is the second dismissal for Cassin, which may protect her from future litigation -- she was named in a John Doe suit by RIAA earlier, which was also dismissed.

Federal law states that if two cases are dismissed for an allegation of the same claims, that second dismissal is considered an "adjudication" of either case's merits.

There may be some self-protecting strategy in RIAA's move: By having a case dismissed whose outcome could have been detrimental to its claims in other pending cases, future defendants may be prevented from using those rulings in their own defense.

Cassin may still be able to hold the RIAA liable for her troubles. "If Ms. Cassin chooses to do so, she could bring a winnable motion for attorneys' fees. She has not yet decided whether or not she will make such a motion," stated lawyer Ray Beckerman, whose blog is where the motion to dismiss first appeared.

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