The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) isn't finished making an example of Jammie Thomas-Rasset, the 34-year-old Native American mother of four from Minnesota who was found guilty in 2007 of illegally sharing 24 songs via peer-to-peer. Attorneys representing the RIAA have filed an appeal against last month's decision by Judge Michael Davis to knock the fines down to $54,000.
Jammie Thomas-Rasset, the woman who made numerous headlines for taking on the RIAA in a losing battle over file sharing, may want to heed the advice of Kenny Rogers. Among his more notable lyrics, Kenny Rogers sang "You got to know when to hold 'em, known when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run." Now that a federal judge has again lowered Thomas-Rasset's verdict, this time from $1.5 million to $54,000, it might be time to run.
Rocky Balboa wrote the book on how to get your ass kicked just about every time you step into the ring, only for the most part he usually would find a way to win the bout. Jammie Thomas-Rasset? Not so much.
The convicted file sharer that we nearly forgot about got smacked around in court again and this time was hit with a $1.5 million verdict for damages related to copyright infringement. A(nother) jury of her peers found her guilty of illegally sharing 24 songs, for which she is ordered to pay $62,500 for each one.
"We are again thankful to the jury for its service in this matter and that they recognized the severity of the defendant's misconduct," the RIAA said in a statement. "Now with three jury decisions behind us along with a clear affirmation of Ms. Thomas-Rasset's willful liability, it is our hope that she finally accepts responsibility for her actions."
Sorry Apollo Creed, that isn't how sequels are made, and naturally Thomas-Rasset plans to appeal the ruling.
"We intend to raise our constitutional challenge again before Judge Davis," Kiwi Camara, an attorney for Thomas-Rasset, told CNet. "The fight continues."
If nothing else, give Jammie Thomas credit for stretching out her five minutes of fame for much longer than that. When the legal dust does finally settle, however, she'll either go down in history as the first person to take the RIAA to task over copyright infringement claims and won an unlikely victory, or the person who foolishly opted not to settle and owes the music industry a bunch of money as a result.
So far in her file sharing saga her place in history has leaned towards the latter, though after all this time, Thomas is still fighting. Everyone at this point is ready to move on, including a federal court in Minnesota, which has just appointed a special master to help mediate the case.
The decision to appoint a special master falls squarely on Judge Michael Davis and is not the result of any urging by the RIAA. Regardless, the special master inherits a four-year case littered with appeals and all kinds of legal drama. In case you somehow managed to miss it all, Thomas was found guilty of copyright infringement back in 2006 and ordered to pay $222,000. The judge later ruled that he erred in instructing the jury that the act of making songs available constitutes copyright infringement. Thomas got her retrial, only the second time around the jury increased the award to $1.92 million, an amount that would later be deemed "monstrous and shocking" and lowered to $54,000.
Since then, the RIAA has tried to settle with Thomas for $25,000, all of which would be donated to music charities. Thomas refused, and so here we are.
Read the order appointing a special master in Capitol v. Thomas-Rasset here.
Jammie Thomas-Rasset must have been relived by last week's court ruling that lowered the damages awarded against her to $54,000 from a staggering $1.92 million. The 32-year-old mother of four was found guilty of illegally sharing copyrighted music through a P2P network in 2007. Relieved she might be, but a sense of triumph still evades her. Her attorneys had made it clear last week that they will not be satisfied until the fine itself is scrapped.
They appear to be in no mood to abandon or ease their stand after rejecting RIAA's offer to settle the lawsuit for $25,000 on Wednesday, the very same day as it was made. Recording Industry Association of America RIAA's out-of-court settlement offer required that Thomas-Rasset request the court to remove last week's decision from the record. The recording industry had also warned Thomas-Rasset that they would contest last week's ruling, if their settlement terms were rejected.
You didn't really expect the RIAA to roll over and accept the latest verdict in the Jammie Thomas trial, did you? There's too much at stake for that to happen. To quickly recap, the Minnesota mother who opted not to settle with the RIAA for $5,000 over copyright infringement allegations ended up being hammered in court to the tune $222,000, an award that was later increased to $1.9 million following a retrial last June.
The shocking turn of events came last Friday when District Court judge Michael Davis reduced the award by 97 percent, dropping the "monstrous and shocking" damages to $54,000. Davis then gave the RIAA seven days to challenge his ruling and schedule a trial on the damages.
Since then, there's been yet another twist in a case which has already had more twists and turns than a Six Flags theme park. While $54,000 is a far cry from $1.9 million, Thomas' lawyers have challenged the constitutionality of not just the current ruling, but the minimum amount of statutory damages. That's what we call a game changer, and as CNet words it, one that puts the RIAA in a pickle.
"This means that the RIAA cannot avoid the constitutional issue, even if (it accepts the latest ruling on the reduced damages)," said Kiwi Camara, one of Thomas' attorneys.
But even if Thomas' side doesn't challenge the ruling, the RIAA almost has to, lest the organization let a legal precedent remain that could impact any future copyright claims.
"There's some interesting language in (Davis' decision)," said Denise Howell, a Silicon Valley-based attorney. "The constitutional nature of statutory damages comes up over and over again. If you're in any kind of copyright case, and you've gotten a very high damage award entered against you, you're going to want to bring this up and use Judge Davis' reasoning. I know a few folks in other copyright cases that have nothing to do with P2P file sharing but think this is quite an interesting development."
So do we, and like everyone else, we'll have to wait to see how it unfolds.
Minnesota resident Jammie Thomas-Rasset, 32, was thrust into the public eye in 2006, when the music industry chose her for the most unenviable role imaginable: the poster girl of the brand of digital piracy that the average Joe practices from the comforts of his home. Several record companies sued her for copyright infringement on April 19, 2006.
Though the court originally ordered Thomas-Rasset to pay a fine of $220,000, the fine was raised to a vertiginous $1.92 million, or $80,000 per song, at a retrial. She was now left with a three-pronged hope: a court will scrap the fine or at least lower it; or a bankruptcy court will pave the way for her escape; or she will land a major book deal.
The decision leaves the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) with seven days to either accept the fresh fine or request a retrial. Joe Sibley, one of the defendant's attorneys, told Cnet that the judge had made “it much more equitable and this was much closer to the $0 award that we were seeking."
Cnet's Greg Sandoval has learnt from his sources that RIAA is not too keen on taking this any further as it only wanted to use the case as a deterrent. Sandoval also reminds everyone that Thomas-Rasset's refusal to settle with RIAA left it with no choice but to drag her to court.
It's been a roller-coaster of a legal ride for Jammie Thomas, who was found guilty of copyright infringement for sharing 24 songs through KaZaA, a P2P file sharing application. After the dust settled, Thomas was ordered to pay $1.92 million in damages, an amount levied against her in a retrial of the case and much higher than the original $220,000 verdict she received in the original case.
In a motion filed today with the Minnesota federal court, Thomas called the verdict "excessive, shocking, and monstrous." As such, Thomas wants the federal judge overseeing her lawsuit to either toss out the exorbitant damage award, reduce it, or issue her a retrial.
"For 24 songs, available for $1.29 on iTunes, the jury assessed statutory damages of $80,000 per song -- a ratio of 1:62,015," the motion states. "For 24 albums, available for no more than $15 at the store, the jury assessed statutory damages of $80,000 per album, a ratio of 1:5,333. For a single mother's noncommercial use of KaZaA, and upon neither finding nor evidence of actual injury to the plaintiffs, the judgment fines Jammie Thomas $1.92 million. Such a judgment is grossly excessive and, therefore, subject to remittitur as a matter of federal common law."
The record labels also filed a motion today, one which asks the judge to issue a permanent injunction against future copyright infringement. Because, you know, a $1.92 million fine apparently isn't enough of a deterrent.
Should Thomas be issued a retrial or have her fines reduced? Hit the jump and sound off.
For the second time, a jury on Thursday found Jammie Thomas liable for willful copyright infringement, this time ordering her to pay fines totaling an eye-popping $1.92 million to the RIAA. The surprise decision breaks down to $80,000 for each of the 24 songs Thomas was found guilty of illegally sharing. According to ArsTechnica, Thomas let out a gasp as the fine was read.
"Good luck trying to get it from me," Thomas said when speaking about the verdict. "It's like squeezing blood from a turnip."
For those who haven't been following, Thomas in 2007 was initially accused of illegally sharing 1,700 songs, but the RIAA dropped that number down to 24. In October of the same year, a jury found her guilty and imposed a $222,000 verdict against her. The decision was later thrown out when U.S. District Judge Michael Davis said he erred when giving his jury instructions that simply making songs available amounted to copyright infringement.
The RIAA, big winners in the retrial, told reporters that they have always been, and still are, willing to settle the case. Thomas' lawyer acknowledged the settlement offer, but said he plans to file numerous motions if Thomas chooses to continue the fight.
Brian Toder, former defense lawyer for Jammie Thomas, dropped a bombshell earlier this week when he asked to be removed from the case. He did so saying he was owed nearly $130,000 "that will never be recovered, coupled with the likelihood that a similar, additional amount will be incurred if ordered to continue representation of defendant."
Stepping in to take Toder's place is a trio of former Harvard University classmates who feel confident they can take on, and defeat, the RIAA.
"We are going a for a jury verdict of zero," said Kiwi Camara, one the three Texas lawyers who replaced Brian Toder on Wednesday. "We are going to convince a jury that the RIAA should not bring these cases."
Doing so will be anything but easy. With a retrial scheduled to begin in just three weeks on June 15, the trio said they will not seek a delay, and instead plan to attack the RIAA's litigation strategy, Wired reports.
"We think the jury is going to reject this strategy," Camara said. "The RIAA strategy here is not to try any of these cases."
Brian Toder wished Thomas well in her ongoing fight.