Capitol Records, Inc. v. Thomas-Rasset

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: 09-11-2012
  • Case #: 11-2820, 11-2858
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Murphy, Melloy, Colloton
  • Full Text Opinion

Record companies are not entitled to clarification of the Copyright Act without a Art. III case or controversy; Copyright infringement includes making media available to be distributed as well as actual distribution.

Opinion (Colloton): In 2005, Capitol Records, Inc., Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Arista Records LLC, Interscope Records, Warner Bros. Records, and UMG Recordings, Inc. (“the record companies”) hired an online investigative firm to find people who were illegally sharing the record companies’ copyrighted music. Jammie Thomas-Rasset’s (“Thomas-Rasset”) online music sharing account was discovered to contain copyrighted music. After three district trials resulting in verdicts, monetary damages, and injunctions prohibiting distributing music against Thomas-Rasset, the record companies appealed on two issues: firstly, the district court’s sua sponte ruling that making a work available to the public was not “distribution” under 17 U.S.C. § 106(3) if actual distribution was not been proven to have taken place; and secondly, the district court’s lessened award for the record companies using Due Process reasoning. For the first issue, the Court observed that the record companies were attempting to procure a more decisive interpretation of the Copyright Act, which did not qualify as an Article III case or controversy. However, citing an error of law, the Court remanded the to the district court with instructions to adjust Thomas-Rasset’s injunction to include making copyrighted music available as well as distributing it. The Court next determined that the original award was not “severe and oppressive” or “wholly disproportionate,” and remanded the case with instructions to award the record companies the original $222,000 (or $9,250 per song in question). Accordingly, the Court decided that the record companies were entitled to their requested remedies.

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