RIAA Appeals Following Latest Jamie Thomas File-Sharing Ruling

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In July a federal court slashed the verdict in the infamous RIAA v Jamie Thomas file-sharing case from $1.5 million to ‘just’ $54,000. The RIAA were said to be unhappy with the verdict and now just a month later they have confirmed their appeal. The music industry group are appealing on three grounds. If successful the case could go to a third trial.

The RIAA has appealed against the latest ruling in the file-sharing case against Jamie Thomas-Rasset.

The appeal in the case, which has now been active since 2008, follows a decision last month by a federal court to reduce the amount Thomas-Rasset has to pay the RIAA in damages to ‘just’ $54,000.

According to court documents filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) says it is appealing at least three decisions made during the long-running file-sharing case.

Questions 1 and 2

Whether the District Court erred by concluding that making a copyrighted work available for download on an online file-sharing network is insufficient to constitute a ‘distribution’ under 106(3) of the Copyright Act, and therefore refusing to enjoin Defendant from making Plaintiffs’ copyrighted sound recordings available to the public.

Whether the District Court erred by concluding that it had committed an error in instructing the jury that making a copyrighted work available for download on a online file-sharing network constitutes a “distribution’ under 106(3) of the copyright Act and therefore vacating the jury’s verdict and ordering a new trial.

Previously U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled that by simply ‘making available’ music tracks on a file-sharing network (by having them in a shared folder or similar) an individual is not guilty of distribution. With these two questions the RIAA challenge that assertion.

Questions 3

Whether the District Court erred by holding that the jury’s award of statutory damages for defendant’s willful copyright infringement violated the due process clause even though it was well within the range of damages awards authorized by 504(c) of the Copyright Act.

This final question concerns the damages awarded against Thomas-Rasset. Perhaps understandably the RIAA would like her to face an amount easily confused with a telephone number, but that may prove difficult considering the history of the case.

In 2007 a jury hit Thomas-Rasset with a $222,000 verdict. She appealed and in 2008 a mistrial was declared. Judge Davis ruled that the fines were “disproportionate to the damages suffered.”

In 2009 the case went to re-trial before a new jury and resulted in yet another guilty verdict, this time with even harsher punishment. Thomas-Rasset was ordered to pay $80,000 per infringement, a massive $1.92 million in total. But this amount was deemed unconstitutional and was duly slashed to $54,000.

In November 2010 the appeal of the retrial was heard and again Capitol Records won the case. The jury decided that Thomas-Rasset had to pay a $62,500 fine per shared song, a total of $1.5 million. It was this decision that was overruled by U.S. District Judge Michael Davis last month. He described the amount as “appalling”.

Disputes over the size of the damages aside, a positive outcome for the RIAA on the distribution question above could result in an almost unbelievable third trial in the case.


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