Howell Gets Off Easy With $40,850 Fine

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Judge Neil Wake has ordered Jeffery Howell, anti-DRM paladin-turned-chump, to pay $40,500 in statutory damages to the RIAA and $250 in court fees, after Howell destroyed some incriminating P2P evidence on his computer:

In addition, he will pay 2.12 percent interest on the unpaid balance until the entire amount is paid off; in essence, Howell has just taken out a pricey new car loan, except that instead of a car, he gets a big pile of nothing to park in his driveway.

The judge also ordered him to stop infringing copyrights, "including without limitation by using the Internet or any online media distribution system to reproduce (i.e., download) any of Plaintiffs' Recordings, or to distribute (i.e., upload) any of Plaintiffs' Recordings."

And, just for good measure, Howell is instructed to "destroy all copies of those downloaded recordings transferred onto any physical medium or device in Defendant's possession, custody, or control."

Given that Howell didn't have the cash even to pay a lawyer, the RIAA may never see all of this money. Not that it matters; the PR value of winning these sorts of cases is no doubt reward enough.

The RIAA takeaway from the case will surely be a lesson about how the group will hunt down and then win cases against file-swappers. The lesson that EFF staff attorney Fred von Lohmann takes from the case, though, is a different one: get yourself a lawyer.

"He never had an adequate opportunity to explain what happened on his PC, while the RIAA had forensics experts and lawyers to tell the story," von Lohmann told us last week. "I think if Howell had an expert and lawyer to speak for him, he would have told a different story.

The RIAA may have won this time, but it can't stop the revolution.

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  1. That the kid is a obvious putz is no reason to screw him over as badly as this did.

    Kid should have got counsel. Ah well.

  2. Elemenope,

    Judges usually don’t offer legal counsel unless jail time is involved.

  3. NS,

    I know. He should have dialed up the ol’ EFF, or barring that, find some eager-for-the-spotlight hotshot lawyer to do him pro bono. High profile case like this, they’d normally be tripping over one another.

  4. True enough Elemenope. But how high a profile is the case when the fine leveed is 40 grand? I don’t think that even with good representation this would have been anything but a slam dunk for the prosecution. Which might be why no one wanted to do pro bono work with the guy.

  5. FOR the guy. Not WITH the guy. Sorry. Dying of boredom over in Gautier waiting for Gustav to go the hell away.

  6. The RIAA may have won this time, but it can’t stop the revolution.

    Mike, you’re being a little naive. This revolution is probably lost. Biden is an enthusiastic supporter of the RIAA/MPAA, and I don’t think McCain is any improvement in that respect. Congress just passed a whole lot fiercer set of rules for universities to follow. It’s going to get way worse before it gets better. If ever.

  7. It’s going to get way worse before it gets better.

    Agreed.

    If ever.

    I don’t want to take this discussion teleological–we might never make it back to reality–but I doubt any assortment or number of political alliances will prove capable of preventing the full disintegration of our current copyright system. The RIAA will never be able to stop everyone from violating its square-peg-round-hole rules.

    Like other dysfunctional private institutions, the RIAA will either disintegrate along with copyright, or it will adopt a more cost-efficient, post-DRM/DMCA view on intellectual property.

    Seeing as the association can’t wage it’s litigious wars with tax dollars, what other choice does it have? Adapt or die, right?

  8. Naga Sadow, the constitutional right to counsel applies whenever incarceration is a possible outcome, such as in contempt proceedings, whether civil or criminal.

    Also, a federal district court has discretionary authority to appoint counsel in a civil case.

  9. The RIAA may have won this time, but it can’t stop the revolution.

    And by “revolution”, I guess you mean “stealing other people’s intellectual property”.

    Or by “revolution”, you mean theft, theft, theft.

  10. EddieInCA —

    You’re gonna have to explain to all us dimwits, if you don’t deprive the original “owner” of their property, how the act in question falls under any reasonable definition of “theft”.

    You’re also gonna have to go ahead and tell us how a group of data strings, which is reproducible essentially *for free* and in this case *is* literally reproduced and stored anytime a person *listens to a song* or *watches a movie*, can be property.

  11. I know that much John, no offense intended. I just don’t know the circumstances that would prompt an appointment of counsel.

  12. This may be one small blow to file sharing through the trackable public platforms like p2p software. But most copyright enforcement is heading towards impossible. You can’t easily track all the mp3’s sent through private emails. You can’t track all the mp3’s that change hands when I plug my friends iPod into my laptop and use gtkpod. With increasing sizes of mass storage, the coming sneakernet will be unstoppable.

  13. The RIAA and MPAA are dinosaurs on the eve of the apocalyptic meteorite. The movies and music they protect are non-interactive. Interactive things like gaming and simulations are the future, and they are not trivial to pirate like movies. If you want to play WoW for free beyond a trial limit, as far as I know you have to steal someone’s password. That isn’t too hard, but it’s not like they won’t notice when you do.

    I don’t know if us communist pirates will win that war, but on the bright side, the free stuff continues to get better.

  14. “You’re also gonna have to go ahead and tell us how a group of data strings, which is reproducible essentially *for free* and in this case *is* literally reproduced and stored anytime a person *listens to a song* or *watches a movie*, can be property.”

    I guess it’s like how the ink stains on pieces of paper are considered the intellectual property of the person who originally arranged those ink stains. A weird concept true enough but that doesn’t contradict the notion that you’re an immoral little shit.

  15. The higher concept of intellectual property rights eludes many so-called libertarians.
    They cannot see it, therefore it must not exist.

  16. A weird concept true enough but that doesn’t contradict the notion that you’re an immoral little shit.

    When was it ever said that *I* copied data without permission?

    I was just asking Mr. EddieinCA to defend his position.

    BTW, while it is true that for a long time ink stains on a paper could be protected by law, it wasn’t so for the vast majority of time that people made ink stains on paper. Far from it, it used to be the case that an author would do practically anything to get his or her work copied. Production of an expert text was taken to be an indication of the quality of the skills of the writer in their chosen profession, sort of like an advertisement for their work (in whatever they happened to do).

    Once distribution of texts started to be handled by publishers and middle men (since demand for specific texts went up, as reproduction became automated), an obvious profit movie arrived. This was also the time in which texts *for their own sake*, i.e. fictional stories, started to be produced in large quantities for distribution.

    Automation has caught up to the profit motive these days, and since reproduction costs are *so low* that any shmoe with a computer can do it trivially, copyright law for texts (and anything else reproducible by a computer) becomes unenforceable. And, you probably don’t have to ask me what I think should be done with regimes of law that are unenforceable. I’ll let you guess at that one.

  17. copyright law for texts (and anything else reproducible by a computer) becomes unenforceable

    By that, you mean 100% unenforceable, correct? Just because theft has become easier doesn’t mean it can’t have consequences. Easy theft and the proliferation of thieves worldwide does in no way negate the concept of property. You might as well say genocide negates the concept of right to life.

  18. Just because theft has become easier doesn’t mean it can’t have consequences. Easy theft and the proliferation of thieves worldwide does in no way negate the concept of property. You might as well say genocide negates the concept of right to life.

    There has never been a *worldwide* genocide, and until there is, the situations can’t ever be close to comparable.

    And, yes, actually, rights *practically* exist to the extent they can actually be defended. An explosive proliferation of thieves may not make thieving morally right, but it sure can make property rights practically pointless.

  19. Genocide only negates the right to life on those who are targeted for extinction. And when the groups so targeted are extinct, the remaining people don’t need to care.

    What we are talking about is indiscriminate copyright violations on a massive scale. The proportion of people who are thieves continues to grow until just about everyone is one. While thieves might understand the concept of property rights, they certainly don’t care about them. And because everyone is a thief, nobody cares about all the theft going on.

    If you still think copyright violations are a problem, then I’m afraid that, because the laws are unenforceable, your only solution to download some warez and join the revolution! Or you could continue to argue about abstract property rights and such, but at least I won’t be listening. I’m a pirate, what do I care?

  20. Hmm. I gotta go with Captain Awesome and LMNOP on this one. It is impossible, on a practical level, to enforce the current system, which means the property rights and legal regime associated with IP have to change in a non-trivial fashion.

  21. The proportion of people who are thieves continues to grow until just about everyone is one

    Nice way to justify your thieving, Cap’n Crunch. Have you looked at iTunes sales lately? Millions of folks willing to actually buy digital tracks. They must be insane! Or maybe just moral.

  22. They must be insane! Or maybe just moral.

    I think they just find it more convenient to pay for it. Got nothing to do with morals.

    And it’s actually been many years since I did any stealing. I don’t care much for movies and I have successfully unaddicted myself from games (still working on getting off Reason). And I get all the music I want for free and legally from overclocked remix. Despite that, I still defend pirating IP on principle. I don’t even need to justify it based on arguments like “everyone’s doing it, so it must be OK” or “IP stifles innovation”.

  23. You’re also gonna have to go ahead and tell us how a group of data strings, which is reproducible essentially *for free* and in this case *is* literally reproduced and stored anytime a person *listens to a song* or *watches a movie*, can be property.

    When you read a book, the same could be said about the string of characters that comprise it.

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