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Courts Decide One Must Commit a Crime Before Being Held Liable for It

April 2nd, 2008

Judicial prudence (at least where the courts have not been stacked with right-wing loons) seems to be one of the only things holding back the nutcases in many instances. Like the courts deciding that a brain-dead woman’s body should be allowed to die, especially if the preponderance of evidence says that’s what she would have wanted. Or that a boy should be returned to his father according to law, instead of being put on display by relatives as part of a major political PR game. Or that creationism dressed up as fake science should not be taught in Science classes alongside scientific theories tried and tested for over a century, as if they were somehow equal.

In this case, the courts decided that a person must actually commit a crime before they can be sued for committing a crime, as opposed to being sued for a crime simply because there was the potential for a crime to be committed. In this case, it was the RIAA claiming that they could sue someone literally out of house and home for making a few CD’s of music available over the Internet, even if there was no evidence of any sort that anyone actually stole anything. The court disagreed, saying that there had to be evidence that file sharing actually took place.

However, the judge still gave the RIAA an out: he said that if someone made “an offer to distribute, and that the offer to distribute was for the purpose of further distribution, public performance, or public display,” then a suit could be filed. I suppose that’s under the same category as arresting someone for solicitation without the crime being solicited actually taking place.

Now, what that means may be open to interpretation, but the one that seems evident is that one must prove that there was the intent to distribute copyrighted material–and that could be pretty hard to prove. The RIAA can sue based on that claim, but proving that claim might be a lot more difficult.

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  1. Pensive Koala
    April 3rd, 2008 at 07:29 | #1

    That line about how an offer to distribute must be “for the purpose of further distribution, public performance, or public display” sounds pretty bad for the RIAA and other abusers of intellectual property. In other words, if you offer to send someone a copy of some song for them to listen to, that offer isn’t criminal and you can’t be sued over it. This would also (probably) apply to making that offer on a website, which would mean that as long as you can somehow prevent yourself from being sued for providing the file itself (perhaps a statement that by downloading the file you agree not to sue the provider of the download and to accept full responsibility for lawsuits made by others against the provider that use your download as evidence?) you can host content to your heart’s content. I’m guessing that “further distribution” line makes people who post torrents valid targets, though, which is troubling.

  2. Tim Kane
    April 3rd, 2008 at 13:00 | #2

    Some background:
    The Inchoate Crimes – pronounced in-koe-ate (i.e. Incomplete Crimes):

    The judge, in this case, is standing on the precedence of Inchoate crimes. These are: attempt, solicitation and conspiracy to commit a crime. Attempt to commit a crime requires the defendant to have taken a substantial step towards committing a crime. Solicitation requires an attempt to hire someone to commit a crime and conspiracy is simply two or more people agreeing to commit a crime. In all of these cases, the actual crime does not have to take place. Once the actual crime is commited, the attempt or the solicitation (I think) can be merged into the actual crime.

    So, any new kind of law that seeks to criminalize behavior before the actual crime has been committed would probably have to be based upon the well known old English Common Law Inchoate crimes.

    By the way, I think that these crimes may some day become important for stamping out the Neocon/Movement conservative movements in our government. In general, it is considered a crime, at least in the public’s mind, any attempt to overthrow the constitution of the United States. For instance, I think the long plotted and conspired efforts to merge church and state could and should be considered as a conspiracy to undermine the constitution of the United States. And without thinking substantially about any of this, I think that there are a whole lot of things going on in conservative circles and think tanks that are borderline criminal behavior to undermine our constitutional rights.

    None of which has anything pertaining to the issue on hand concerning the RIAA – an issue I am not reasonably informed about. Just thought I’d take the opportunity to throw those Inchoate crimes out there.

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