Copyright Law

Award Cut to $54K from $1.92M in Music File-Sharing Case

In a decision that is hardly music to the ears of the recording industry, a federal judge in Minnesota last week slashed a stunning $1.92 million award in a landmark file-sharing case concerning a woman found to have stolen and shared 24 songs over the Internet.

Reducing the amount owed by Jammie Thomas-Rasset in the Recording Industry Association of America case to treble damages, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis said that the new $54,000 award was still “significant and harsh” but no longer “monstrous and shocking,” reports Information Week.

However, Thomas-Rasset indicates she may not be able to pay even that much. “Whether it’s $2 million or $54,000, I’m a mom with four kids and one income and we’re not exactly rolling in that kind of dough right now,” she says.

Meanwhile, the decision is being greeted with excitement by legal observers, who say Judge Davis’ decision to reduce a statutory damages award, while not binding on other courts, could nonetheless be persuasive to fellow jurists concerning arguments about copyright awards claimed to be excessive, reports CNet News.

The RIAA can, in theory, appeal the reduced damages award, writes attorney Ben Sheffner today on his Copyrights & Campaigns blog. He points readers to a copy of the order provided by Scribd.

But if another massive jury award results from such an appeal and Thomas-Rasset again objects, Sheffner muses, wouldn’t the judge likely reduce the amount again? “Can this go on ad infinitum? Is this a real-life Groundhog Day?”

Although offered a $5,000 settlement initially, Thomas-Rasset’s decision to take the case to trial has so far resulted in an initial $222,000 verdict in the initial trial, followed by the $1.92 million verdict on retrial. Her case was closely watched throughout the country because it was the first time a user had chosen to fight the RIAA in court on such claims of illegal music downloading.

In a second high-profile music-downloading case, graduate student Joel Tenenbaum was ordered last year to pay $675,000.

Additional coverage: (July 2009): “Music Industry Wants File-Sharer Barred from Downloading” “Judge Reduces Minn. Woman’s $2 Million RIAA Copyright Fine”

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