The case is Atlantic v. Howell, where U.S. District Judge Neil Wake not only denied an RIAA summary judgment motion, but ruled that placing songs in a “shared directory” wasn’t proof enough of infringing activities. Instead, the judge ruled, the plaintiffs must prove that the songs were actually downloaded.

Wake’s ruling pretty much contradicts many of the legal arguments the RIAA has presented in those peer-to-peer lawsuits the organization has brought against individual users. However, not that many cases actually make it to court, mainly because defendants often opt for settling for a few thousand dollars instead of shouldering expenses for a jaunt through the civil legal system.

This isn’t the first time the recording industry’s lawsuit against Pamela and Jeffrey Howell has been in the national news cycle. Late last year in legal documents filed in the case, the RIAA asserted that songs ripped from CDs and then placed in a shared directory constituted copyright infringement.

Based on that, the Washington Post reported the RIAA’s position was that ripping your own CDs was illegal, which launched a thousand blog entries saying something along the lines of “look what the RIAA is saying now.” Eventually, calmer media heads prevailed, but not before many news followers believed the RIAA had become even more draconian than previously believed.

In many file-sharing lawsuits, the RIAA has maintained that putting songs in a shared directory is reason enough to sue an individual for his or her body weight in U.S. currency, even when the trade organization can’t actually prove that anybody downloaded the tunes in question. Often the RIAA has described the placing of songs in a shared directory as “making available,” or “offer to distribute.”

Wake’s ruling is not binding, and will not affect other copyright lawsuits. But it just might make the judges in those lawsuits contemplate whether the RIAA’s legal arguments are as cut-&-dried as the organization often professes.