RIAA Wins $40,850 P2P Judgment

Illegal file-sharer Jeffrey Howell has lost his case with the RIAA, and has been issued a fine for $40,850 by US District Judge Neil V. Wake, based on the deliberate destruction of evidence related to a Kazaa account.

Few of the RIAA’s thousands of cases against individual file-swappers ever make it to trial; fewer still reach a judgment, making these awards quite unusual. However, Ars Technica reports that Howell, who served as his own counsel throughout the trial, did himself no favors by intentionally destroying evidence of his computer activity after being ordered by a judge to preserve it. According to the RIAA, Howell uninstalled Kazaa and deleted everything in the shared folder, reformatted his hard drive, downloaded and used a file-wiping program, and then nuked all the Kazaa logs on his PC.

Ruling last week that Howell had acted in bad faith, the judge was forced to call the case to a premature close and issue judgment against Howell. Howell’s punishment was to come at a later date, and the judge has now issued his ruling. Howell is ordered to pay $350 in court costs—an incredible bargain when set against a whopping $40,500 in statutory damages. In addition, he will pay 2.12 percent interest on the unpaid balance until the entire amount is paid off.

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.”

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.”