Judge Tosses Out Verdict Against Minn. Mom Accused Of File Sharing - InformationWeek

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9/25/2008
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Judge Tosses Out Verdict Against Minn. Mom Accused Of File Sharing

A jury convicted Jammie Thomas of putting 24 songs on Kazaa's file-sharing network and ordered her to pay $9,250 per song.

A federal judge dealt the Recording Industry Association of America and record labels a setback Wednesday by throwing out a $222,000 verdict against a mom who was convicted of illegally sharing music over the Internet.

U.S. District of Minnesota Chief Judge Michael Davis ordered a new trial for Jammie Thomas, saying the jury's punishment was "unprecedented and oppressive." Davis said that the term "distribution" does not apply to simply making music available. It requires actual dissemination, he said.

Thomas claimed that she did not share music files and her lawyer argued that she may have been spoofed. A jury convicted her of putting 24 songs on Kazaa's file-sharing network and ordered her to pay $9,250 per song.

This week, her lawyers convinced Davis that the attorney representing the music label, Capitol, erred when he told the jury that making the songs available for others could be considered illegal distribution, even if there was no proof anyone downloaded the songs.

In a 44-page statement, Davis urged the U.S. Congress to improve copyright laws to prevent "oppressive" penalties in similar cases.

"The Court would be remiss if it did not take this opportunity to implore Congress to amend the Copyright Act to address liability and damages in peer-to-peer network cases such as the one currently before this Court," Davis wrote. "While the Court does not discount Plaintiffs' claim that, cumulatively, illegal downloading has far-reaching effects on their businesses, the damages awarded in this case are wholly disproportionate to the damages suffered by Plaintiffs. Thomas allegedly infringed on the copyrights of 24 songs -- the equivalent of approximately three CDs, costing less than $54, and yet the total damages awarded is $222,000 -- more than five hundred times the cost of buying 24 separate CDs and more than four thousand times the cost of three CDs."

Davis said he did not excuse Thomas' behavior, but the penalty was excessive.

The RIAA said it would try the case again. Thomas also vowed to continue fighting the charges.

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