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Sony Music Int'l v. Easyinternetcafe

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Citation Edit

Sony Music Int'l (UK) Limited v. Easyinternetcafe Limited, [2003] EWHC 62 (Ch) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

easyInternetcafe operates a chain of Internet cafes in the UK. It allows its customers to save downloaded files to their own private directories on the company's servers. They then could have café employees burn those files to CDRs for £5 (about $8) per CD. According to easyInternetcafe, its employees did not know what types of files they were copying, because company policy prohibited employees from looking at the contents of files, unless the customer agreed.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

Sony Music, Polydor and Virgin Records filed a copyright infringement suit against easyInternetcafe. easyInternetcafe opposed the record companies' summary judgment motion on two grounds. It argued first that it was an "involuntary copier" and shouldn't be held liable for that reason. According to easyInternetcafe, its position was analogous to that of a fax machine owner who received an infringing fax. Justice Smith was not persuaded by this argument, however.

Copyright infringement liability is "strict," he noted, so it is not a defense that the infringer doesn't know he is infringing. More importantly, Justice Smith concluded that the analogy was factually flawed. The only reason easyInternetcafe employees didn't know what they were copying was that the company chose to keep the contents of customers' directories confidential. "This is not involuntary," the Justice said, "it is voluntary." That is, easyInternetcafe didn't know what it was doing simply because it chose not to know.

easyInternetcafe also argued that it was not liable, because British copyright law provides that it is not an infringement to make copies of "cable programmes" for private and domestic use to enable those "programmes" to be viewed at a more convenient time. According to easyInternetcafe, Internet transmissions are "cable programmes," so its customers are permitted to make copies to listen at more convenient times, and therefore it is not liable for permitting its customers to do so.

Justice Smith was not persuaded by this argument either. No evidence was introduced to show that music recordings had been copied for private or domestic use, and Justice Smith refused to take judicial notice that easyInternetcafe customers were likely to use copies for those purposes rather than commercial ones. More importantly, CDR copies of recordings were being made by easyInternetcafe itself, and it was not doing so "for the purpose of private and domestic use. It is copying for the purposes of selling the complete CDR for £5 . . . [and] is making a profit out of it."

Justice Smith's ruling dealt only with easyInternetcafe's liability. He didn't rule on damages.

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