Nearly five years after being found guilty of file-sharing in the media industry's first jury trial on the issue, Minnesotan mother of four Jammie Thomas-Rasset is back where she started after the appeals court upheld the original verdict.
The US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has found that the original fine of $9,250 per track was not "so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense and obviously unreasonable." In its ruling it points out that the maximum fine per track for willful copyright infringement established by Congress is $150,000, so she's on the low end of the damages scale.
"We conclude that the recording companies are entitled to the remedies that they seek on appeal," the court ruled. "The judgment of the district court is vacated, and the case is remanded with directions to enter a judgment for damages in the amount of $222,000, and to include an injunction that precludes Thomas-Rasset from making any of the plaintiffs’ recordings available for distribution to the public through an online media distribution system."
Back in November 2007, Thomas-Rasset was found guilty of making available 24 songs on the Kazaa P2P network, although RIAA investigators found she had over 1,700 tracks available for download during a preliminary investigation in 2005. They didn’t find any evidence that the tracks in question had been downloaded, but the jury returned a guilty verdict within minutes and set damages at $220,000.
As the appeals court ruling points out, this was in part because Thomas-Rasset clearly had knowledge that what she was doing was wrong. She authored a college case study on the legality of Napster but denied knowing anything about Kazaa or having used it. The jury heard evidence that she had swapped a new hard drive into her system before handing it to investigators.
Despite presiding over the original case, however, US District Court Judge Michael Davis then decided he'd misled the jury on his directions as to what exactly constituted making the music available. He ordered a retrial, which Thomas-Rasset lost in 2009, and that jury upped her total fine to $1.92m, or $80,000 per track.
Even the RIAA seemed a little embarrassed by this and offered to settle the case for less, assuming correctly that an award of that size was PR poison. In 2010, the courts cut the damages down to $54,000, or $2,250 per track. Capitol Records, which by this time was looking at a huge legal bill of its own, offered to settle the whole thing for a $25,000 payment to charity, but Thomas-Rasset again took the case to appeal.
She lost her third trial (earning herself the epithet of "world's dumbest file-sharer") and the damages were set at $1.5m, or $62,500 a track, but this was reduced on appeal back to a total of $54,000. Not to be deterred, she appealed again, and now has to pay back four times as much based on today's ruling upholding the original case.
El Reg would advise her to leave it at that, and to try and settle the case. The Supreme Court has already turned down one case request on the issues of file-sharing, leaving former student Joel Tenenbaum facing costs of $22,500 per track, and the constitutionality of file-sharing fines that vastly exceed the commercial value of music has a growing amount of case law behind it. ®