RIAA/Capitol v. Thomas-Rasset: Minnesota Jury Awards Nearly $2 Million in RIAA File-Sharing Suit

Copyright Patent

RIAA/Capitol v. Thomas-Rasset

On Thursday, June 18, 2009, a federal jury in Minneapolis, MN returned a $1.92 million verdict against Jammie Thomas-Rasset for willfully infringing the copyrights of twenty four songs she had made available for download on Kazaa, a file-sharing program. The suit, brought by the Recording Industry Artists of America ("RIAA"), involved copyrights owned by subsidiaries of four major recording companies, Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, EMI, and Sony Music Entertainment.

ArsTechnica provides a full account of the trial. IT Blogwatch provides a compilation of some of the blog coverage of this case. As reported by Wire, several copyright academics have suggested that the 'make available' standard was not met in this case.

The jury had previously awarded a verdict of $222,000 in October, 2007, but Judge Michael Davis granted a retrial after acknowledging that he had wrongly instructed the jury. At the time of the first trial, Judge Davis called the verdict "wholly disproportionate" and urged Congress to alter the current copyright laws.

The suit was one of over 30,000 initiated by the RIAA since December 2003 and the only of these cases to have been heard before a jury. The majority of the alleged infringement cases were settled out of court, with an average in the range of $3000 to $5000 per song.

Current copyright laws allow recording companies to recover between $750 to $30,000 for each copyright infringement, and this can be elevated to $150,000 if a jury determines the infringement was willful. The jury in Thomas-Rasset's case's award of $1.92 million comes to $80,000 per violation. The 1.92 million dollar playlist can be viewed at Wire.

RIAA spokesperson Cara Duckworth stated after the trial that the RIAA remains willing to settle the case. Ben Scheffner reported that Thomas-Rasset's attorneys are also interested in the possibility of settling.

Thomas-Rasset's defense team attempted to portray the RIAA as a team of rich executives who can "come after you like the Terminator." Additionally, the defense denied that Thomas-Rasset had shared the files, despite overwhelming evidence that her home computer and Kazaa account were involved in transmitting the files. According to Kiwi Camara, one of Thomas-Rasset's attorneys, the jury probably returned such a large verdict because they thought Thomas-Rasset was lying about not sharing the files in question. 

Kiwi Camara, Joe Sibley, and Tim Nyberg, who provided pro bono defense were all classmates at Harvard and students of Charles Nesson. According to ArsTechnica, Camara and Nesson will be joining together to file a class action suit against the RIAA later this summer to attempt to recover the money the association has collected from file-sharers.