The judge in Jammie Thomas' challenge to her landmark $220,000 fine for sharing music over KaZaa has declared a mistrial, forcing yet another court case.
Thomas' case was the only federal filesharing trial the RIAA had won.
Minnesota Federal beak Michael Davis said he had given an incorrect instruction to the jury on the level of proof required by the Recording Industry Ass. of America. He had told jurors last year that the act of "making [music files] available" via a peer to peer network was sufficient to prove unauthorised distribution of copyright material without evidence that others had downloaded the files.
But in August this year he said he might have been wrong, and yesterday ordered a new jury to be appointed, AP reports. "Jury Instruction No. 15 was erroneous, and that error substantially prejudiced Thomas' rights. Based on the court's error in instructing the jury, it grants Thomas a new trial," Davis ruled (pdf).
The RIAA won its case against Jammie Thomas in October last year, when the "making available" argument was accepted. That first jury fined her $9,250 for each of the 24 tracks in her shared KaZaa folder.
Davis' U-turn is a big blow to the RIAA's legal jihad against filesharers. "Requiring proof of actual transfers would cripple efforts to enforce copyright owners' rights online – and would solely benefit those who seek to freeload off plaintiff's investment," a lawyer for the association said in a court filing in May.
Thomas said: "Now they're going to have to prove their claims. They never had to prove anything before. Now they do. It kind of levels the playing field a little bit."
Although he wasn't considering the fine levied against Thomas in the original trial, in his judgment Davis said Congress should re-examine the law on copyright infringement, calling it "wholly disproportionate". "Her alleged acts were illegal, but common. Her status as a consumer who was not seeking to harm her competitors or make a profit does not excuse her behavior. But it does make the award of hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages unprecedented and oppressive," he wrote.
The RIAA said it remains confident in its case against Thomas. It could appeal for the original trial to stand. ®