Texas teen forced to pay up for downloads

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Dec 2, 2010


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review an appeal from a Texas teenager who downloaded and shared "a sizeable list" of copyrighted music without paying.

The teenager, Whitney Harper of San Antonio, admitted to using file-sharing networks to attain songs, but argued the amount of money she owes the music companies should be reduced. Harper, who was 16 at the time, claims she was "unaware" she was engaging in copyright infringement.

SCOTUSblog writer Lyle Denniston wrote that the Court in its decision Monday "chose not to get drawn back into the continuing controversy over damages for copyright violations in downloading music via the Internet."

Harper's lawyers had argued in a lower court that she was an "innocent infringer" because she was "naive" and had no idea that the songs were protected by copyright.

The Fifth Circuit Court ruled against her, concluding that the defense is not available if copyrighted music has been sold in stores with the appropriate copyright markings.
She currently faces damages of $30,000 or more.

The justices on Monday rejected Harper's argument and the request that her fines be cut, Denniston reported.

According to the blog, Justice Samuel Alito, in dissenting from the denial of review of the teen's petition, argued that the lower court's interpretation of the law may have been based on "out-of-date perceptions" about access to copyrighted music, since the law was passed in 1988 -- "well before digital music files became available on the Internet."

Alito suggested the Court might need to -- in the future -- take on the issue and make a ruling.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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