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Report: RIAA wins case over erased hard drive

Judge reportedly finds that defendant in closely watched copyright infringement case tampered with evidence after being served with the suit.

The recording industry appears to have won a closely watched copyright infringement case over charges of evidence tampering.

Judge Neil Wake ruled on Monday that Jeffery Howell, a defendant in Atlantic v. Howell, had willfully and intentionally destroyed evidence related to his peer-to-peer activities after being notified of pending legal action by the RIAA, according to a Tuesday report by Ars Technica. Furthermore, since it was done in bad faith, it "therefore warrants appropriate sanctions," the site reported.

The RIAA sued Pamela and Jeffrey Howell for copyright infringement in 2006, claiming that the husband and wife had used Kazaa to make copyrighted files available for download.

In a deposition, Jeffrey Howell admitted to loading the file-sharing software onto his computer. He said, however, that the songs listed in the complaint were for personal use and that he had not placed the files in the program's shared folder. He said the recordings were copies made from CDs he owned placed on the computer for personal use, not copies downloaded from Kazaa.

He also argued that that he was not the one sharing the files, but that it was the computer that was sharing the files.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation argued on behalf of the couple--which lacked legal representation--saying the RIAA's "making available" position "amounts to suing someone for attempted distribution, something the Copyright Act has never recognized." The argument--that merely the act of making music files available for download constituted copyright infringement--has been the basis for the Recording Industry Association of America's legal battle against online music piracy.

Judge Wake apparently agreed with that position and in April denied the labels' motion for summary judgment in a 17-page decision (PDF), allowing the suit to proceed to trial.

However, the RIAA accused Howell of destroying evidence on four occasions after being served with the lawsuit, the site reported. RIAA experts found that Howell uninstalled Kazaa and reformatted his hard drive, Ars Technica reported.

"Defendant's intentional spoliation of computer evidence significantly prejudices plaintiffs because it puts the most relevant evidence of their claim permanently beyond their reach," the RIAA reportedly argued. "The deliberate itself, compels the conclusion that such evidence supported plaintiffs' case."

Wake reportedly agreed with the RIAA and is expected to inform Howell of his decision in a forthcoming written order.