By Terry Baynes
Sept 11 (Reuters) - The music industry won the latest round
on Tuesday in its long-running legal battle against a woman
accused of illegally downloading and sharing two dozen songs on
the Kazaa peer-to-peer network.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul,
Minnesota, reinstated a $222,000 jury verdict against JammieThomas-Rasset, rejecting her arguments that the damages award
was excessive and violated her due process rights under the U.S.
The decision is the latest to address the music industry's
ability to use the Copyright Act to pursue individuals who
illegally download music from the Internet. The law allows
copyright owners to recover damages between $750 and $150,000
per infringed work.
Thomas-Rasset, from Brainerd, Minnesota, was one of 18,000
individuals sued by the Recording Industry Association of
America between 2003 and 2008 in a legal assault meant to
discourage people from illegally downloading songs from sites
The industry organization accused her of illegally
downloading more than 1,700 files. After failing to reach a
settlement, the association sued Thomas-Rasset in 2006 over 24
songs on behalf of six major record labels, including Sony BMG
Music Entertainment, UMG Recordings Inc and Arista Records.
The case has followed a circuitous path. Thomas-Rasset lost
her first trial in 2007 and was ordered to pay $222,000, only to
have the court throw out the verdict because of a faulty jury
At her second trial, Thomas-Rasset testified that her
ex-boyfriend or sons, then 8 and 10, were most likely
responsible for downloading and distributing the songs. The jury
awarded the record labels $1.92 million in damages. But the
court lowered the damages to $54,000, calling the jury's award
Instead of accepting the lowered amount, the record
companies exercised their right to a new trial, and a third jury
awarded the music industry $1.5 million in damages. The district
court again ruled that the maximum amount allowed by due process
was only $54,000. The recording companies appealed.
On Tuesday, a unanimous three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit
reinstated the original $222,000 in damages that the first jury
The $222,000 award was not "so severe and oppressive" as to
violate the Constitution, Judge Steven Colloton wrote for the
panel. Rather, the amount, equivalent to $9,250 per song, was at
the lower end of the $750 to $150,000 range that Congress
Thomas-Rasset argued that if the labels had sued her over
1,000 songs, the damages would be clearly excessive at over $9
million. But the panel refused to extrapolate.
"If and when a jury returns a multi-million dollar award for
noncommercial online copyright infringement, then there will be
time enough to consider it," Colloton wrote.
Kiwi Camara, a lawyer for Thomas-Rasset, called the $222,000
damages award "punitive" and out-of-line with the U.S. Supreme
Court's rulings. He said he would likely appeal the case to the
The Recording Industry Association of America welcomed the
court's decision. We "look forward to putting this case behind
us," the organization said in a statement. The group has ended
its lawsuit campaign, and now sends warning notices to users
caught illegally downloading music.
In a separate case in 2011, the 1st Circuit reinstated a
$675,000 judgment against Joel Tenenbaum, a former Boston
University student, for 30 charges of illegal downloading. That
ruling reversed a trial judge's decision to knock the award down
Tenenbaum appealed that case to the Supreme Court, arguing
that the Copyright Act was never meant to be applied to
individual consumers. But the Supreme Court declined to hear the
case in May, allowing the 1st Circuit decision to stand.
The latest 8th Circuit case is Capitol Records Inc et al v.
Thomas-Rasset, No. 11-2820.
For the recording companies: Paul Clement of Bancroft.
For Thomas-Rasset: Kiwi Camara of Camara & Sibley.
(Reporting By Terry Baynes)
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