The Eleventh Circuit Federal Appellate Court (our circuit), reversed the conviction of a man who had been charged (and convicted) of distribution of child pornography, but upheld his possession count.
The Defendant had been viewing child pornography he had downloaded from a peer-to-peer network, for a period of approximately eleven months before agents raided his home and confiscated his computer. On that computer they found images of child pornography in a folder that other users of the peer-to-peer network could access.
The trial court convicted him of distribution, because others were able to access those files. The appellate court said no. That “Congress elected to proscribe only those acts of distribution that are accomplished with the requisite state of mind, and it is the government’s burden to prove the statute’s knowledge requirement beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The government would have had the court hold the defendant strictly liable for the downloading offense, simply by virtue of the fact that he was using a peer-to-peer network and by virtue of the type of software he used, “should have known” that others could access files from his computer. The court said no. “Without some proof that the defendant consciously shared files, either by authorizing their distribution or knowingly making them available to others, he cannot be held liable for knowing distribution under Section 2552(a)(2).”