A federal court has once again lowered the damages award for Jammie Thomas-Rasset, the Minnesota woman found liable for copyright infringement by multiple juries.
Last year, Rasset was ordered to pay $62,500 for each of the 24 songs she was accused of uploading illegally to the Web but in a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis that sum was lowered to $2,250 per song. The total damages award she is required to pay now has fallen from $1.5 million to $54,000. Lawyer and blogger Ben Sheffner broke the news about the latest decision and posted a copy of the order here.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) accused Thomas-Rasset of copyright infringement in 2006 in a suit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota and the case has gone back and forth ever since. First, Thomas-Rasset refused to settle the copyright complaint brought against her by the RIAA, the trade group representing the four major music labels. Then, two juries found her liable for large awards but both of those were tossed out by Davis.
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Last year, a third jury of Thomas-Rasset's peers voted against her. Since she had already been found liable of copyright infringement, the third jury was tasked only with determining what she should pay in damages. They came down hard, assessing an amount of $62,500 for each of the songs she was accused of illegally sharing. The total damages she was ordered to pay was $1.5 million.
Davis wrote in his decision: "The court is intimately familiar with this case. It has presided over three trials on this matter and has decided countless motions. It has grappled with the outrageously high verdict returned in a case that was the first of its kind to go to trial. The court is loath to interfere with the jury's damages decision. However, the Constitution and justice compel the Court to act."
On Friday morning, the RIAA released a brief statement; "We disagree with this decision and are considering our next steps." Thomas-Rasset's lawyers were not immediately available.
In Davis' decision, he makes it clear that he supports the jury's decision that Thomas-Rasset is liable for copyright infringement and he notes the importance of protecting copyrights. He also found that Thomas-Rasset deserves to be punished. "She lied in her trial testimony by denying responsibility for her infringing acts and instead, casting possible blame on her children and ex-boyfriend for her actions."
But he agrees with Thomas-Rasset's lawyers that the amount of damages awarded by the jury is extreme.
"To protect the public's interest in enforceable copyrights, to attempt to compensate plaintiffs, and to deter future copyright infringement, Thomas-Rasset must pay a statutory damages award," Davis wrote. "Plaintiffs have pointed out that Thomas-Rasset acted willfully, failed to take responsibility, and contributed to the great harm to the recording industry inflicted by online piracy in general. These facts can sustain the jury's conclusion that a substantial penalty is warranted. However, they cannot justify a $1.5 million verdict in this case."
Just where the RIAA can go from here is unclear. We're trying to find out what the next step is in this case. Is yet another appeal by the RIAA possible? Will we see another jury trial or is Thomas Rasset headed for the U.S. Supreme court?