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On Friday, January 22, Judge Michael Davis reduced the jury award by ninety-seven percent in a case brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) against Minnesota mother Jammie Thomas-Rasset for copyright infringement of twenty-four songs obtained through illegal file sharing, calling the original fine “monstrous and shocking.” This case was the first file sharing case to make it past the settlement stages and into court, and has now been tried to a jury twice. The jury verdict of $222,000 in the first trial was thrown out when the case was declared a mistrial. In a second trial, the jury convicted Thomas-Rasset and assigned a $1.92 million verdict in favor of the RIAA, a fine of $80,000 per song. Last week this verdict was reduced to $54,000, amounting to $2,250 per song. The RIAA plaintiffs were given seven days to respond, either to accept the lower verdict or seek a new trial.
Now the world is wondering what will happen in the case. Though the RIAA has stated its belief that a higher judgment is appropriate and does not want to set a precedent for future proceedings, it appears the plaintiffs believe that the Thomas-Rasset case has gone on too long. Considering the RIAA was willing to settle with Thomas-Rasset for $3,000-$5,000, the $54,000 judgment is certainly an improvement. The RIAA is no longer going after individuals in file sharing cases, and only has one other active file sharing case. To avoid dragging this matter out any further, it would be best for RIAA to just accept the remittitur.
But that will not be the end of the story. Even if the RIAA agrees to the lowered verdict, Thomas-Rasset’s attorneys have announced that they will appeal the verdict, stating that even a fee of $2,250 per song is unconstitutional given the wide disparity between the fee and the amount it would have cost the defendant to purchase the songs legally (around $1). The defense is hoping to avoid any fee at all, and in comparison, $54,000 is a hefty sum.
Even though the appeal is now likely, it does not seem to be in the best interests of the RIAA to seek a new trial for higher damages. It will only seem to make the association look greedy, a view already espoused by much of the public, and will cause an already long-drawn-out case to be unnecessarily extended with no guarantees of any greater success. Even if it were to win again in the new trial, this remittitur will likely keep a jury from entering a higher verdict, as Judge Davis’s order specifies that the $2,250 fine per song is the maximum amount a jury could reasonably award for the infringement at issue.
With a pending motion for a new trial in the case of Joel Tenenbaum, a file sharer against whom a $675,000 verdict was entered in July 2009, and the shift away from suing individual file sharers for deterrence purposes, the RIAA has enough on its plate and no good reason to continue pursuing the Thomas-Rasset matter beyond any defense appeal that may arise.
– Christine Hawes
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