Tuesday, 26 January 2010 06:33

Jammie Thomas-Rasset's RIAA fine reduced

In the long-running court-driven saga of Jammie Thomas-Rasset, her previous fine of $1.92M for copyright infringement has been reduced to $54,000.  This is not the end of the story.

In October 2007, Jammie Thomas-Rasset was convicted in the United States of copyright infringement and was fined $9,250 for each of 24 songs she downloaded, totalling $222,000.  Note that the RIAA chose to bring the case to trial with just 24 of the over 1,500 songs detected on her computer.  Presumably if they lost, they could try again with the next 24.

This was declared a mistrial in late 2008 over the way the judge briefed the jury before they retired, specifically, that he stressed to the jury that the files were deliberately available for sharing whereas Thomas-Rasset insisted they were for personal use.

At the re-trial in mid 2009, a new verdict was delivered: still guilty, but the amount was raised to $80,000 per song, totalling $1.92M.

Last week, following an appeal for a new trial, Judge Michael Davis turned down that appeal, but severely reduced the amount of the fine, to $54,000, being $2,250 per song.

The Judge was quoted as saying "The need for deterrence cannot justify a $2 million verdict for stealing and illegally distributing 24 songs for the sole purpose of obtaining free music." He added that the amount of $54,000 "is significant and harsh... this Court has merely reduced that award to the maximum amount that is no longer monstrous and shocking."

Judge Davis' message to the RIAA was to either accept the new fine or to seek a new trial to set a new damages amount.

The latest reports suggest that with the bit firmly between their teeth, the RIAA has decided to challenge the ruling and will charge ahead to a new trial.

In response Thomas-Rasset's pro bono lawyers have said that even the fine of $54,000 is constitutionally excessive, being 2,250 times the likely purchase price of the songs in question.

This case has been something of an albatross around the neck of the RIAA, being the first time that a targeted offender has chosen to go to court rather than capitulate in the face of an early settlement offer.  Since then, only one other person, Joel Tenenbaum of Boston, has chosen to take the case to court; the Thomas-Rasset case will have no impact on his trial.

Amusingly, this whole saga started with an out-of-court settlement offer of just $5,000.  In pure emotional and stress-related terms, Thomas-Rasset must be sorely regretting not accepting it.

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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