One Occasion In Which Wiping Is a No-No


Federal District Court Judge Neil Wake of Arizone recently ruled in favor of the Recording Industry Association of America after the association proved Jeffery Howell—who the RIAA accused of distributing music through P2P downloading—uninstalled Kazaa (or "KaZaA," for you old school P2P junkies), deleted all his shared tunes, and wiped his hard drive. In a cruel twist, Wake had previously denied the RIAA's request for a summary judgment against Howell, arguing that

"[A] distribution must involve a 'sale or other transfer of ownership' or a 'rental, lease, or lending' of a copy of the work. The recording companies have not proved an actual distribution of 42 of the copyrighted sound recordings at issue, so their motion for summary judgement fails as to those recordings."  

No doubt flushed from his small, yet heady victory and anticipating trial, Howell cleaned his computer. The RIAA caught wind of this and argued that the missing files "compel the conclusion that such evidence supported Plaintiffs' case." And in no time flat, Howell has gone from paladin to chump.

Ironically, a number of digital observers cheered Wake's reversal of an earlier ruling against Howell, calling him "A judge who understands both the technology, law and separation of powers doctrine." A lot of people thought Howell was going to win this thing, but, like a number of other digital revolutionaries, he opted to represent himself for lack of funds, and thus had no legal counselor around to explain how dumb it is to destroy evidence.

I wonder if this will give the RIAA a second wind—the knowledge that a sharp eye for legal procedure can win over the most P2P-sympathetic judge? Because it doesn't have much else going for it. A more down-to-earth question: What did the RIAA accomplish? Howell can't afford a lawyer, so I'm guessing he won't be able to pay whatever damages Wake awards the RIAA. Perhaps the association thinks that putting some foolish kid in debt up to his ears for the next century will act as a deterrent…No, I can't even suggest that with a clean conscience.

In other copyright news: India is now the only place on Earth where one can play Scrabulous, as Facebook has blocked the application everywhere else. (But don't worry, the resourceful and cunning Agarwalla brothers have come up with something almost as good: Wordscraper.) According to founder Tim Westergren, Pandora may not be around much longer, but there's still hope for Internet radio junkies.

reason on the RIAA here. More evidence of my not-so-secret love for Scrabulous and the Agarwalla brothers here, here, and here.  Jesse Walker on the trials and tribulation of Internet radio here.