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Music The Almighty Buck The Courts

Judge Lowers Jammie Thomas' Damages to $54,000 390

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the no-resolution-in-sight dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Judge Michael Davis has slashed the amount Jammie Thomas-Rassett is said to owe Big Music from almost $2,000,000 to $54,000. 'The need for deterrence cannot justify a $2 million verdict for stealing and illegally distributing 24 songs for the sole purpose of obtaining free music. Moreover, although Plaintiffs were not required to prove their actual damages, statutory damages must still bear some relation to actual damages.' The full decision (PDF) is also available."
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Judge Lowers Jammie Thomas' Damages to $54,000

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  • by viking099 (70446) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:24PM (#30863666)

    $54,000 is still a crazy amount all things considered, but hopefully this judgment can stand as a sort of benchmark for future ones, even if it's not setting a precedent.

  • Screw the RIAA (Score:1, Insightful)

    by cavis (1283146) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:25PM (#30863686)
    I'm hoping that this is the death blow for the RIAA.
  • Quick! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pwnies (1034518) * <j@jjcm.org> on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:28PM (#30863726) Homepage Journal
    Everyone get vaccinated, this outbreak of common sense might be contagious!
    Penalties that can actually be paid? Preposterous! My God man, next thing you know they'll say gay marriage is acceptable! Harumph!
  • Re:Some relation? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Khashishi (775369) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:29PM (#30863740) Journal

    I think you missed the "distributing" part.

  • Re:Some relation? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:31PM (#30863768)

    The wholesale price of 24 songs is $16.80. $54,000 is over 3,000 times the maximum possible damages.

    What kind of punishment would I get for shoplifting a $16 CD? Isn't petty theft like a $500 fine and community service? This guy didn't even steal anything.

  • Stealing? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:33PM (#30863782) Homepage Journal

    'The need for deterrence cannot justify a $2 million verdict for stealing and illegally distributing 24 songs for the sole purpose of obtaining free music.

    I take issue with the language used. If I download and then upload a song, that's copyright infringement. If I walk into WalMart and shoplift a CD, that's stealing. WalMart has been deprived of their property. In neither case has the record company been deprived of anything. Plus, WalMart owns the CD, Warner does NOT own the music. In the US, this "property" belongs to all of us; the "content creator" has a limited time monopoly on its publication, not ownership.

    If I steal a CD and get caught I have a misdemeanor criminal charge and a few hundred dollar fine, but if I infringe copyright and get caught it costs $50k. This is better than before, but still very bad.

  • Incorrect analogy. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RingDev (879105) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:34PM (#30863808) Homepage Journal

    It's not the downloading, it's the uploading.

    The correct analogy would be:

    What sort of punishment would you get is you printed off 3000 CDs of copy right protected music, and gave them away for free with out the permission of the copy right holders?


  • Welp... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:35PM (#30863816) Homepage

    ...I think it is still a bit much, but it's a hell of a lot better than it was. I like that the judge acknowledged that he wasn't doing this because he sympathised with the defendant, but rather was disgusted with the punishment based on the crime. The reasons he gave for changing the amount are the way a judge SHOULD be.

  • Re:They need to (Score:4, Insightful)

    by plague3106 (71849) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:38PM (#30863844)

    I have a restaurant. You run around town telling people we spit in each and every plate that goes out. I've lost business because of it. Are you saying I'd have to go and find each and every person that didn't come to my restaurant because of your lies? Even if I could find them all, what possible way would I have to convince them to testify for me?

    Any simple solution to a complex problem is wrong.

  • by DeadDecoy (877617) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:38PM (#30863856)
    Maybe because there's some legal specification as to the min/max of statutory dmgs? As a judge he is allowed to move the slider but not change the endpoints, I'm guessing.
  • Re:Some relation? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sanosuke001 (640243) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:39PM (#30863870)
    Saying he didn't steal anything is a bit much unless he actually had a legitimate copy of whatever songs they said he infringed. However, I would like to see them start to go after downloaders; it shouldn't be the responsibility of an uploader to make sure the downloader has a legitimate license for something.

    I know fair use doesn't allow receiving a backup of something from another individual, but it should. If it did, though, what would the great big corporations do if they could only sue downloaders for only a couple hundred bucks? (technically they could charge them for criminal theft at that point I think)
  • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:45PM (#30863932) Homepage Journal

    ...it was his province to determine only the maximum amount a jury could reasonably award.

    If that language was used in the official decision then that means that the maximum allowable fine per song would be set to $2,250 = $54,000/24 right? Is that how legal precedence is established?

    It still seems quite high. I wonder if another case could appeal to get it lowered even further to something like, say, $5.00 per song. I mean, when you think about it, $54,000 could buy someone a 4 year education, a really nice car, could be used for a downpayment on a decent home, or, for the philanthropic, would be a very sizeable charity donation. That money that Jamie Thomas has to pay, now, could be used for some very important things that could help progress society (as in, employing a home builder or auto manufacturer, helping Jamie grow educationally to become a more productive member of society, etc.) Instead, it is going to line the pockets of some already very rich folk who are probably going to spend it on blow and hookers, or maybe, at best, a very overpriced car that contributes to little more than an ego.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:45PM (#30863942)
    As I understand it (I'm not a lawyer):

    His decision was that the amount awarded was in violation of the principles of remittitur. As a result, it was his duty to find the absolute maximum in damages which could be awarded based on the violations. In this case, he determined that sharing 24 songs could be worth, at most, $54,000 in damages ($2,250 per song).

    He ALSO felt that, while that was the maximum in damages, he believed this case was not deserving of the maximum in damages. HOWEVER, he felt that while altering the damages awarded to be in line with remittitur were within his powers, he did not feel that lowering it further were, and thus let the judgement of the jury stand as much as possible.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:47PM (#30863974)

    Where did you get 3,000 CDs? The facts of the case stipulate a mere 24 songs. A reasonable figure of damages per song would be $10, which would make the maximum possible damages only $2,640.

  • Re:3 - 5 years? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by plalonde2 (527372) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:48PM (#30863982)
    Sure, her kids should suffer a lower lifestyle to please the RIAA and "deter" file sharing. Your country is fsck'd.
  • Re:Some relation? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Stormwatch (703920) <`rodrigogirao' `at' `hotmail.com'> on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:49PM (#30864002) Homepage

    Saying he didn't steal anything is a bit much unless he actually had a legitimate copy of whatever songs they said he infringed.

    Copyright infringement and theft are completely different, unrelated things.

  • learn to read? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ClintJCL (264898) <clintjcl+slashdot&gmail,com> on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:54PM (#30864066) Homepage Journal
    I think you missed the part where distributing was never proved.
  • by Nukenbar (215420) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:55PM (#30864086)

    To say that that a copyright holder could only recover his actual damages would render the law meaningless. That is why the law allows for statutory damages "in a sum of not less than $750 or more than $30,000 as the court
    considers just." Three times the minimum does not seem excessive as a matter of law to me.

  • Re:3 - 5 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:56PM (#30864094) Homepage Journal

    Depending on his salary and how much he wants to spend on living expenses, he can pay that off in a few years.

    And if he didn't have to pay it off, he could, you know, spend the money on something that enriches society, like, say, purchasing a piece of real estate and thus maybe helping someone retire, purchasing a LOT of music legally and thus, compensating the artists justly, purchasing some new gizmos and gadgets that help sales rates and thus, help companies like Apple and Motorola and Google and so on continue to produce new, good products. In other words, he could spend that $54,000 on living and that money would get distributed throughout society. Now, instead, it will filter into the check books of record execs and lawyers and be spent in the brothels of hell, thus bringing nearer the inevitable hell on Earth apocalypse....or on hookers and coke.

    1) It sets an example. Don't get caught

    To which I respond:

    Come a day there won't be room for naughty men like us to slip about at all

    -Malcolm Reynolds, Serenity.

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:00PM (#30864160) Homepage

    That would be the actual damages resulting from her not buying the music herself. However, her uploading did allow many others to cause the plaintiffs the same damages. We just don't know how many.

    Personally I'd probably have aimed more at $10k than $50k, but I don't think that it is unreasonable for the court to take a position that punishes people for violating the intent of a law. Otherwise, what point is there in having the law?

  • by FlyingBishop (1293238) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:04PM (#30864210)

    No, assuming he had a share ratio of 100 per song, that number is a good ballpark figure.

    Given the nature of the Internet, and how long the defendant was known to be sharing, it's perfectly reasonable to allege that the works were shared with over 100 people each.

  • Re:learn to read? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spazmania (174582) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:05PM (#30864224) Homepage

    Perhaps, but I didn't miss the part where the judge explained (citing case law) that statutory damages are intended to be a replacement for unproven and potentially unprovable actual damages.

  • Re:It's still BS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Razalhague (1497249) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:11PM (#30864308) Homepage
    It's not the downloading, it's the sharing... and sharing... and sharing...
  • by cetialphav (246516) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:14PM (#30864354)

    Still, I think $18,000 is a number that already more than took into effect the need for deterrence and costs of enforcement, since it's already massively higher than any actual damages or lost revenues, which are in the several hundreds of dollars.

    I think the problem with the law is that there are two different things it is addressing. This case is about an individual who shared a handful of songs with a few people with no expectation of monetary gain. For that case, a few thousand dollars is a significant deterrent.

    But there is also the case where someone decides to make a business out of selling illegally copied music. The statutory damages in the law are really meant to be a serious deterrent to this kind of business. Without being able to attach a really big number to each infringing activity, someone might decide that the risk of paying a few thousand dollars is offset by the big money you can make by selling music without having to pay any artists.

    I think the law itself is reasonable, it just gets really ugly when it is applied to individuals. They probably need to expand the law to distinguish personal file sharing from commercial intent. That could result in reasonable penalties for infringement. It sounds like the judge was doing the best he could to provide justice while still following the law.

  • Re:It's still BS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Pulzar (81031) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:31PM (#30864532)

    How the hell is a song worth $2250?

    Minimum is $750, and that is tripled in case of willful infringement, which is what jury decided was the case.

    As he said in his ruling, you can't only look at the actual damages, since this fine needs to serve as a deterrent, too. If you are only going to pay the value of the songs you downloaded when you get caught, then there would be no deterrent to downloading songs for free.

  • by TomXP411 (860000) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:35PM (#30864584)

    The fine for running a red light is $351. The fine for sharing songs is, apparently, $2,250 per song.

    Running a red light can kill someone.

    Sharing an MP3 might cost the record company $1.

    Since when did a record become 641% MORE valuable than a human life?

  • Re:It's still BS (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dan541 (1032000) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:37PM (#30864610) Homepage

    The damage is still $0

  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:45PM (#30864678)

    I'm hoping that this is the death blow for the RIAA.

    I'd really like it if it was, but I don't see how this could have that result.

    It's not like they could have gotten the two million from this poor person anyways. About 50k is probably the limit they would have gotten from her anyways. She'll be in debt to the RIAA until she dies from old age, most likely. My college loan was less than that (about half actually) and I'm *still* paying on the bastard.

    And a precedent in that court was set. Payoff is: $750 * 3 * [number of songs]. Wait until they catch some poor schmuck sharing his whole boot drive. It'll be back up in the millions pretty quick. 50k is what you get for sharing only 24 songs.

    Nope, this doesn't go down in the win column for us I'm thinking.

  • by Nerdfest (867930) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:52PM (#30864732)
    That can hardly be described as "civil".
  • by ottothecow (600101) on Friday January 22, 2010 @07:06PM (#30864838) Homepage
    This is why appeals often do not happen even if there is a good chance of a benefit.

    You might be able to get more money by appealing, but you run the risk of losing in a higher court and completely screwing yourself for every lower court judgment. This is also why some things are just let go/settled (possibly for LOTS of cash) in a lower court...you can't set precedent if the other side lets you win in a low court. So, if the ACLU is trying to attack someone for rights violations, they may choose to roll over because by winning, they might force an appeal to a higher court where precedent can be set.

    also IANAL

  • Re:Some relation? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LandDolphin (1202876) on Friday January 22, 2010 @07:12PM (#30864884)
    Overkill is the point. That's what makes it a deterrent.
  • Re:Stealing? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by LordKronos (470910) on Friday January 22, 2010 @07:16PM (#30864912)

    I take issue with the language used. If I download and then upload a song, that's copyright infringement. If I walk into WalMart and shoplift a CD, that's stealing.

    Ahhhh! Give it a rest, will you (and everyone who brings this up in every thread like this)? The common definition of stealing does not having anything to do with DEPRIVING. It's merely about TAKING WITHOUT PERMISSION. And as for the legal definition of stealing? Well...as far as I can tell, there doesn't appear to be one. The legal term you are looking for is theft. Of all the legal definition websites I checked (dictionary.law.com, definitions.uslegal.com, www.nolo.com , and several others), not a single one had a legal definition for the word steal. The closest I could find was definitions of things like "possession of stolen goods". Granted IANAL, so I may be mistaken on this, but if it had a specific legal meaning I would expect at least one of the major legal websites to cover it.

    And I'm pretty sure judges are allowed to use non-legally defined words when speaking in court...otherwise they wouldn't have too many options for speaking grammatically correct sentences.

  • Re:They need to (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vagabond_gr (762469) on Friday January 22, 2010 @07:30PM (#30865018)

    The cost of enforcement is pretty high, so actual damages might have to include those.

    This is totally absurd. If I steal a bread and the bakery develops their own hitech satellite surveillance system to catch me, they couldn't possible claim that they lost a billion dollars because I stole a bread.

    If the cost of enforcement is more that the actual damages, it's a stupid business decision and clearly their problem that they chose to do it.

  • by Labcoat Samurai (1517479) on Friday January 22, 2010 @07:34PM (#30865036)
    Keep an eye on that vein in your forehead.... Honestly, I think you're blowing this out of proportion. You could most likely buy *a* house in her area with 54,000 dollars. If it wouldn't be enough for a reasonably nice house, maybe that undermines his point a bit, but the point is that 54,000 dollars is still quite a lot of money for a person who isn't independently wealthy.
  • by TiggertheMad (556308) on Friday January 22, 2010 @07:59PM (#30865280) Homepage Journal
    What kind of punishment would I get for shoplifting a $16 CD? Isn't petty theft like a $500 fine and community service?

    Perhaps that's the lesson to be learned here. Don't pirate music, just go down to the local music store and steal it.
  • Re:3 - 5 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zordak (123132) on Friday January 22, 2010 @08:04PM (#30865336) Homepage Journal

    Those kids were never going to college.

    She's a single mother of 4, that means not only did she not have the sense to not get knocked up without proper support, she did it 4 times. There isn't a lot of common sense in that family so its highly unlikely any of her rugrats are going to do anything more than Janitorial service. Its possible, but its just not a realistic expectation.

    Or, you know, it's possible that she was married and that her husband ran off with another man, or mysteriously disappeared from a bar one day, or was killed in an auto accident, or a million other things. But don't let facts like having no idea what her situation is get in the way of your right to sneer at her.

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted&slashdot,org> on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:43PM (#30866410)

    Their agents found out, that this is the maximum amount they can squeeze out of her, without her declaring bankruptcy, and them getting nothing.

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted&slashdot,org> on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:57PM (#30866514)

    So? I’d hire her exactly because of her refusing to cave to the bullshit reality of others.
    That makes her reliable not to fall for schizophrenia-like diseases, like religion, strong irrational beliefs, being detached from reality etc.
    Which is a great and rare quality to have.

    Also, I’d hire her for minimum legal wage, and unofficially pay her a lot more.

  • $0 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jmcvetta (153563) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @12:29AM (#30866980)

    No damages of any amount are appropriate when the "crime" in question is virtuous act of making recorded music available to all, thereby enriching the people as a whole.

  • Re:It's still BS (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dan541 (1032000) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @01:11AM (#30867220) Homepage

    Yet you so quickly hide your identity. Are you an embarrassment to yourself?

  • by ljw1004 (764174) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:40AM (#30868006)

    NewYorkCountryLawyer, why do you insist on ignoring the DISTRIBUTING side of things?

    The DOJ brief only ever talked about "downloading and distributing" (or on page 15, "distributing" alone). It never once even hinted at a penalty for downloading alone. And yet you spun it as a brief about downloading.

    In this Jammie Thomas-Rasset brief again, the judge repeatedly talks about "downloading and distributing" or about "downloading and sharing" or about "sharing" alone. It spends a good half of its pages talking about how many other users Jammie might have distributed the work to. It is clear that the infringement count is about this distribution, not about the original downloading.

    You seem to be systematically mischaracterizing the briefs and the legal issues. I think there are interesting things to be said about distributing (as the judge here did, and as the DOJ brief did). You know about the field, so please spend your energies on this more interesting and relevant legal question.

  • Re:Mod parent up (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:02AM (#30868078) Journal

    Why should sharing be a crime at all? These laws were only set up to provide a means to promote the arts and sciences. They're not holy, they're just an attempt to implement a system. The Founding Fathers had many doubts about it. Was it a good idea? Would it work? Would it hurt more than help?

    The Internet has shown us how very easy sharing is. We can easily see that forbidding it doesn't work. Sharing cannot be stopped. Technical means can't stop it, and neither can legal means. Prohibition was easier to enforce.

    And who is really helped by trying to stop people from sharing? Society sure isn't helped. The fondly held notion is that it encourages art because artists benefit from it, and that is to society's benefit. No honest study I've seen on this subject bears that notion out. Instead, it often has the opposite effect! In short the only people who really benefit from this IP regime are the very few who've used their greater knowledge and leverage in financial and legal arenas to rob those who lack such advantages, namely the artists and the public.

    And who suffered a loss? No one. Nothing was taken, no one lost anything. At worst, someone missed out on a gain, that's all. And it's not a positive sum gain, its zero sum-- the only way for a sale to be gained is for a buyer to lose money.

    These laws don't work. They don't help. If we want to promote art and science, we should put together a system that accomplishes this, as the current system sure doesn't. This legal mugging, whether for $2 million or $54000, is just pure pointless brutality. It won't stop people from sharing, from loaning books and recordings to one another, from visiting libraries and used record stores. It won't make the system work. It didn't even provide any sort of reasonable compensation for any sort of real damage, but calculated a figure based on fantastical ideas that have not been researched. It is totally arbitrary and unfair, and it gives our justice and legislative system a black eye that such egregious unfairness can happen.

A committee is a group that keeps the minutes and loses hours. -- Milton Berle