In August of 2005 Jammie Thomas, a Minnesota mother of four, received a cease and desist letter and a settlement offer from the RIAA for allegedly downloading and sharing 24 songs with Kazaa. Thomas, unlike many of the accused, decided to retain legal counsel and fight the charges. Today, the date for the third trial in the 5-year saga was set for November 2nd.
At the first trial, held in 2007, Thomas denied ever having downloaded the files and turned over her hard drive which contained neither Kazaa nor the tracks in question. Despite the lack of evidence, the jury found her liable for willful infringement and awarded statutory damages of $222,000.
In 2009 a retrial was ordered by the judge who presided over the first trial due to a change in law that made the ruling questionable. With a new, pro bono lawyer, Thomas returned to court and was again found guilty of willful infringement. This time, however, the jury bumped up the damages and set the award for the RIAA at $1.92 million.
After the second trial, Thomas filed a motion claiming that the damages she owed were disproportionate and unconstitutional. Judge Michael Davis called the million-dollar award “monstrous and shocking”, and reduced the damages to $54,000. The RIAA actually further reduced the amount by offering a settlement of $25,000, but Thomas declined.
The court appointed a mediator to oversee negotiations in June of this year. This week Thomas’ legal team again asked the judge to cut damages again, but he refused and set the November date for trial number three. “The Court has thoroughly reviewed the parties’ submissions and its January 22 Order and concludes that the January 22 Order contains no manifest errors of law or fact,” Davis wrote.
Even the RIAA seems to be getting court fatigue with this case. “What Thomas-Rasset really seeks is not judicial economy, but to avoid the possibility of another verdict by a properly instructed jury that reinforces the reasonableness of statutory damages well above the range she thinks is appropriate or constitutional,” recording industry lawyers wrote this week. “By contrast, Plaintiffs were motivated by a genuine concern for judicial economy (as well as, concededly, their own legal fees) when they sought certification of an interlocutory appeal in an effort to avoid the need for a second trial in this case.”
If nothing else, I find Thomas’ perseverance in her quest to fight the RIAA somewhat admirable. That $25,000 in fines had to look tempting after facing million-dollar figures. Unfortunately, this case has the potential to drag on several more years if neither side backs down. We’ll be watching to see what happens.