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Woman forces US record industry to drop file-sharing case

Dangerous precedent set

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A group of US record labels agreed to drop a music piracy case in the US after the alleged file-sharer argued that it could not be proved that she downloaded any illegal music. The case may set a precedent that undermines scores of other music piracy cases.

Tammie Marson of Palm Desert, California refused to pay the initial $3,500 demanded by a group of record labels and opted to fight the case in court. Marson and her lawyer Seyamack Kouretchian of Coast Law Group argued that the fact that Marson's computer contained illegal music files downloaded over her internet connection was not proof that she had committed a crime.

The record companies – Virgin, Sony BMG, Arista, Universal and Warner Brothers – agreed to dismiss the case and pay their own legal costs.

"They don't take these cases to trial, they either settle or dismiss," Kouretchian told OUT-LAW. "It was our position that they could not ever prove that Tammie Marson downloaded this music or that Tammie Marson made it available. It was just an absolute impossibility. The best they could ever prove was somebody had used Tammie Marson's internet account to download the music or make it available. That's the best they could ever do."

Marson argued that as a cheerleader teacher she had had hundreds of girls through her house, any one of whom could have used her computer. She also used a wireless internet network, meaning that people outside of her house could have used her internet connection. "She doesn't even know what a shared folder is," said Kouretchian.

If this becomes a popular defence it could seriously hamper a huge number of file-sharing lawsuits taken in the US against individuals. It also looks to be a trend in defence against movie file-sharing law suits.

Software executive Shawn Hogan is using a similar argument in his response to a film industry case against him. He has decided to fight the case rather than pay the $2,500 demanded of him, even though it will cost him far more than that. His case is that he did not commit an offence and that the film industry cannot prove that he did.

"They're completely abusing the system. I would spend well into the millions on this [lawsuit]," he told Wired magazine.

Kouretchian said that Marson chose to take a similarly principled stand. "Copyright is my area of expertise, we weren't going to fold. They tested the waters with us to see if my client was prepared to go the distance," he said. "We weren't going to be fooled by the allegations and the threats."

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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