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Capitol Records, Inc. v. Thomas - 579 F. Supp. 2d 1210 (D. Minn. 2008)

Rule:

The plain meaning of the term "distribution" under 17 U.S.C.S. § 106(3) of the Copyright Act does not including making available and, instead, requires actual dissemination.

Facts:

Plaintiffs, several recording companies including Capitol Records, Inc., Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Arista Records LLC, Interscope Records, and Warner Bros. Records, Inc., owned or controlled exclusive rights to copyrights in sound recordings, including 24 at issue in this lawsuit. On April 19, 2006, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against Defendant Jammie Thomas alleging that she infringed Plaintiffs' copyrighted sound recordings pursuant to the Copyright Act, by illegally downloading and distributing the recordings via the online peer-to-peer file sharing application known as Kazaa. Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief, statutory damages, costs, and attorney fees. The jury instruction regarding distribution stated that the act of making copyrighted recordings available on a peer-to-peer network without a license violated the distribution right regardless of whether actual distribution had been shown. Thomas then filed a Motion for New Trial, or in the Alternative, for Remittitur, based solely on the issue of the constitutionality of the Copyright Act's statutory damages provision in the case.

Issue:

  1. Were the jury instructions with respect to distribution erroneous?
  2. Should defendant be granted a new trial?

Answer:

1) Yes. 2) Yes.

Conclusion:

The federal district court held that the instruction was erroneous and that a new trial was required under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(d). Making a work available for copying did not constitute distribution under § 106(3); instead, actual dissemination was required. The statute provided that a distribution occurred by sale or other transfer of ownership or by rental, lease, or lending, but it did not provide that an offer to do any of those actions constituted distribution. Distribution was not synonymous with "publication" under 17 U.S.C.S. § 101. Treaties and trade agreements recognizing a making-available right did not compel an interpretation of § 106(3) that included such a right.

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