The first US resident to have a trial, verdict and penalty completed for a file sharing lawsuit is seeing a bit of relief today. Last year a court found Jammie Thomas-Rasset liable for $1.5 million, which works out to $62,500 per song for each track she shared on peer-to-peer network, KaZaA. Today Judge Michael Davis called that penalty “appalling” and reduced it to $54,000 or $2,250 per song.
This isn’t the first time this kind of switch has happened and in fact it’s not even the first time it has happened to Thomas-Rasset herself. Her first two trials ended with penalties of $222,000 and $1.92 million. In each of the previous cases Judge Davis either lowered the jury determined penalty or set it aside all together.
This time Judge Davis took things one step further calling the $1.5 million verdict unconstitutional and immediately reducing it to the $54,000 penalty. In each of the previous cases Davis intervened but he never did so on the basis of the verdict being unconstitutional. That statement by the judge could end this mess at the District Court level. The Appeals Court would have to take things over at this point if the case is pursued. The RIAA is very likely to pursue this, expressing to Ars Technica last week that, “We disagree with this decision and are considering our next steps.” Those sound like fighting words.
Judge Davis’ $2,250 per song number is actually triple the minimum penalty of $750 per song. Davis made the interesting point that in reality, any number chosen is an arbitrary one and “Why is an award of $2,251 per song oppressive while an award of $2,250 is not?”
While Davis isn’t on Thomas-Rasset’s side, pointing out that she lied during her trial and shifted the blame to other members of the household, he still had strong words against the original $1.5 million verdict.
“The Court concludes that an award of $1.5 million for stealing and distributing 24 songs for personal use is appalling. Such an award is so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense and obviously unreasonable. In this particular case, involving a first-time willful, consumer infringer of limited means who committed illegal song file-sharing for her own personal use, an award of $2,250 per song, for a total award of $54,000, is the maximum award consistent with due process.
This reduced award is punitive and substantial. It acts as a potent deterrent. It is a higher award than the Court might have chosen to impose in its sole discretion, but the decision was not for this Court to make. The Court has merely reduced the jury’s award to the maximum amount permitted under our Constitution.”
The Judge is definitely showing knowledge and common sense regarding file sharing trials in his statements about this verdict. He goes on to point out that while Thomas-Rasset was caught, she shouldn’t bear the financial brunt of all the illegal file sharing of the many users who are never caught.
Thomas-Rasset has made it very clear that she can’t pay even the reduced penalty so this will likely be in court for quite some time. The appeal for this particular situation will be particularly interesting to follow.
Here at MyCE, we’ve previously asked our readers What is a fair penalty for file sharing or piracy?, which resulted in some good discussion.