One of the jurors in the trial, which last Thursday awarded $222,000 in punitive damages against a Minnesota mother of two, spoke in an interview with Wired’s Threat Level about the decision they made.
The juror, Michael Hegg, a steelworker that claims he has never been on the Internet, said it took just five minutes to reach the verdict.However hours were spent deciding, or ‘bickering’ as to how much to award to the plaintiffs in punitive damages , no actual damages were awarded, because none were sought. Hegg’s statement, that “we wanted to send a message that you don’t do this, that you have been warned,” sends a message of it’s own, that the double-talking tactics of the industry groups is working.
Potentially more serious though, are the hints given by him that it was never going to be a fair trial. For someone who has never been on the internet, he, for instance, responded to claims of spoofing, and of possibly being a zombie system as “Spoofing? We’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, you got to be kidding.’”
We discussed these statements with Andrew Norton, spokesperson for the Pirate Party of the US, which was not happy with some of the actions in this trial. “The attitudes and responses of this jury member shows that, whilst the litigation strategy may be a ‘Money Pit’, the misleading PR campaigns are having an effect, to the point where they are undermining the ability to allow anyone a fair trial for these alleged offenses. It’s also clear from what he has said that the jury disregarded some of the facts presented to them by witnesses, such as the hard drive in question was replaced because it was faulty, not in relation to the trial.” He also added, “This jury clearly came into the trial with its mind made up, undoubtedly thanks to propaganda such as the “You wouldn’t steal a…“ advertising campaign that has been running for a number of years, which incorrectly associates downloading with theft.”
The Jury also ignored a lot of precedent in other similar cases, or was not made aware of it. This is highlighted by Hegg’s assertion that the Kazaa screenshot, showing millions of Kazaa users, sharing hundreds of millions of ‘songs’ (potentially oblivious that a small percentage of those users and a large percentage of those files were the agents of the plaintiffs, and their fake files) established that Kazaa’s raison d’Ãªtre was for file-sharing , something no-one has ever questioned. His logical leap, however, that file-sharing is copyright infringement is one not shared by courts elsewhere, (affirmed in trials such as Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417 (1984) and A & M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 239 F.3d 1004 (2001) amongst others.)
Yet, the biggest surprise of all, and one that could come back to haunt the RIAA, is that no actual damages were claimed. This may have been because it would have been hard to establish an actual figure, backed up sufficiently to the courts requirements, but will make it hard to claim, in future, that they are losing money. If Ms. Thomas, with all the evidence they had against her caused them no actual financial damage, then it will be hard for them to claim anyone else has cost them either. Of course, when your misinformation strategy means you get the punitive damages anyway, does it really matter?