(CN) – The 5th Circuit ordered a college student to pay $27,750 for illegally sharing 37 copyrighted songs on a peer-to-peer file-sharing network. The court rejected the former high-school cheerleader’s claim that she was “too young and too naïve” to understand that CD copyrights applied to downloaded music.
A federal judge in Texas had ordered Whitney Harper to pay $7,400, or $200 per infringed track, based on her “innocent infringer” defense. Under this defense, a court can reduce the statutory minimum damages from $750 to $200 per infringed song.
But the federal appeals court in New Orleans didn’t buy it and fined her $750 per track.
“Harper’s reliance on her own understanding of copyright law — or lack thereof — is irrelevant” in the context of the law, the court ruled. And the law clearly states that the innocent infringer defense doesn’t apply when the defendant has access to CDs with proper copyright labels, the judges added.
“Lack of legal sophistication cannot overcome a properly asserted … limitation to the innocent infringer defense,” Judge Edith Brown Clement wrote.
“Harper cannot rely on her purported legal naivety to defeat the (statutory) bar to her innocent infringer defense.”
Harper, now a senior at Texas Tech, said she didn’t know it was wrong when she began sharing songs online at age 14.
In court documents, she called the application of copyright law to her situation “unfair and over-reaching” and said the fine “exacts an unreasonable punishment.”
The record companies that sued were Maverick Recording Co., UMG Recordings, Arista Records, Warner Bros. Records and Sony BMG Music Entertainment.