We all remember Jammie Thomas-Rasset, the first person to ever respond to an RIAA file-sharing lawsuit by going to trial, rather than settling for a few thousand dollars (as the vast majority of individuals sued by the RIAA typically do.) Well, the litigation continues, and the RIAA’s initial award of $1.92 million keeps going down.

First, Judge Michael Davis reduced the award all the way down to $54,000, ruling that the initial amount was “monstrous and shocking.” (Note that this is the first time a judge has ever reduced a damage award in a Copyright Act case, and there is some question as to the legality of such a reduction.) Next, the RIAA offered Thomas-Rasset a settlement of $25,000, which she immediately refused. Finally, Judge Davis appointed a special master to help with the settlement process.

All this points to a much less powerful gun for the RIAA to point at the heads of copyright infringers. The prospect of being slapped with a $1.92 million verdict is a pretty powerful disincentive to fight an RIAA lawsuit, but rolling the dice on $25,000 is (although still a hefty pricetag) a different story. If the whole point of the RIAA’s individual lawsuit campaign is to deter downloading, why not focus all of its legal resources on making sure the Thomas-Rasset verdict is as scary as possible, to send a message to all of those potential downloaders out there?

One possible answer, of course, is that the RIAA has no intention of suing individuals anymore, because the process is so expensive, but even without the RIAA actively pursing individual lawsuits, wouldn’t a massively publicized, massively high verdict against a downloader serve to deter all of those potential downloaders out there?

Even if Thomas-Rasset never forks over the cash (and it looks like she’s intent on not paying anything, ever), just the gravitas of a nearly $2 million verdict against a downloader should be enough to scare some people away. Certainly it will be more scary than the message that the RIAA will cave for $25,000 after four years of litigation.

My advice to the RIAA and its lawyers: fight the damages reduction to preserve the $1.92 million judgment, and then treat it as a PR victory rather than a monetary one (because she ain’t paying you.) After all, it’s not like the artists get any money out of your lawsuits anyway.

Kevin Lumpkin

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