$222,000 filesharing fine leaps to $1.92 million in new trial

When Jammie Thomas-Rasset (pictured) was granted a retrial in the first (and to date only) US federal filesharing copyright case, she was likely relieved that it put aside her original punishment of a $222,000 fine. After the court ruled against her in the new case, that relief will be utterly shattered.

Jammie Thomas-Rasset, found guilty of illegally sharing 24 songs through Kazaa, has been fined $1.92 million.

The original trial, a civil action brought by several record labels and spearheaded by the Recording Industry Association of America, came after Thomas became the first alleged copyright infringer to refuse an out of court settlement. Although she was accused of sharing more than a thousand tracks on Kazaa, the case only covered 24 songs. A jury decided on damages of $9,250 per track. (The unusual amount may well have been a compromise figure negotiated between jury members with differing attitudes.)

However, the judge later threw out his own decision after deciding that his instructions to the jury had been unreliable. This was because he’d said with no doubt that simply “making available” the tracks broke copyright laws, a stance he later decided was legally uncertain.

The evidence against Thomas was that the songs had been shared on Kazaa under a username (tereastarr) that it could be proven she’d used on other sites, and that the files were shared from an IP address matching her computer.

In both trials, her defense team argued that the direct links between Thomas-Rasset and the files could not be proven to certainty. In the second trial a defense witness put together 14 other possible explanations for the user name and IP matches, though some of these were thrown out from evidence before the case as they were logistically impossible with Kazaa’s set-up.

The jury in the retrial again had the option of awarding damages anywhere between $750 and $150,000 per offense. There’s no word yet from jury members as to how they reached their decision: it’s possible they took into account the songs not covered by the trial; they punished Thomas-Rasset for continuing to pursue the case through the courts; or that they simply took a harsher attitude to the infringement than the original jury. Whatever the reasons, the jury awarded $80,000 per track for a total of $1.92 million.

There’s virtually no chance of the RIAA seeing that money though. In a colorful twist on the traditional cliché, Jammie-Thomas told reporters “The only thing I can say is good luck trying to get it, because you can’t get blood out of a turnip.”

Meanwhile the RIAA said it is still willing to settle the case. The average payment in the 35,000 previous cases has been in the region of $3,000. However, if the RIAA did accept a similar settlement from Thomas-Rasset, it might still go after her for legal costs.

The defense team hasn’t yet said if it will appeal the verdict. However, before the retrial started defense lawyer Kiwi Alejandro Danao Camara (a 25 year old who was the youngest ever Harvard law graduate and took on the case without a fee) said that if Jammie-Thomas did lose again, he’d consider pursuing the argument that the current system allows damages so excessive as to make the relevant laws unconstitutional.

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