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Jammie Thomas Hit With $1.5 Million Verdict 764

suraj.sun writes with this excerpt from CNET: "Jammie Thomas-Rasset, the Minnesota woman who has been fighting the recording industry over 24 songs she illegally downloaded and shared online four years ago, has lost another round in court as a jury in Minneapolis decided today that she was liable for $1.5 million in copyright infringement damages to Capitol Records, for songs she illegally shared in April 2006. ... The trial is the third for Thomas-Rasset, after one jury found her liable for copyright infringement in 2007 and ordered her to pay $222,000, the judge in the case later ruled that he erred in instructing the jury and called for a retrial. In the second trial, which took place in 2009, a jury found Thomas-Rasset liable for $1.92 million. Thomas-Rasset subsequently asked the federal court for a new trial or a reduction in the amount of damages in July 2009. But earlier this year, the judge found that amount to be 'monstrous and shocking' and reduced the amount to $54,000."
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Jammie Thomas Hit With $1.5 Million Verdict

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  • by nick357 ( 108909 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @01:51PM (#34126828)
  • Seriously? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dexter Herbivore ( 1322345 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @01:51PM (#34126852) Journal
    Why is it that in jury trials she gets slapped with over a million in damages, yet judges appear to favour a milder approach? Are the "Jury of your peers" seriously that gullible that they feel they have to institute massive punitive damages on an individual?
  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @01:53PM (#34126902)
    Copyrights were never really meant to target individual citizens; copyright is a regulation on businesses, and should only be applied to businesses. The way the RIAA is suing individuals is a disgrace, and their lawyers should be reprimanded for abusing the court system.

    Not that anyone really cares about what is best for the people of the United States.
  • The Jury is Out... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Thursday November 04, 2010 @01:55PM (#34126938)
    ...the Minneapolis jury is pretty misinformed and outright unreasonable.

    Are we now going to get all the people who illegally made mix-tapes for their friends in the 1980s and fine them too?
  • by rotide ( 1015173 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @01:56PM (#34126946)
    If you don't have the money to pay 5k let alone 50k+ what does it matter if they tell you to pay millions? Why not billions? or trillions? It's a pipe dream to expect that amount. If I were her, I'd try to get that number as high as possible. The higher it is, the more the system looks like nonsense and the more chance there is for positive change.
  • by ZombieBraintrust ( 1685608 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @01:59PM (#34126986)
    I don't think you understand what she and her lawyers are after. The last thing they want is for the Jury to find her innocent or award a reasonable amount of damages. The more absurd the amount the better. They need the award to be absurdly high in order for an federal appeals judge to rule the law is in unconstatutional. Thats the end game here.
  • Disease v. Symptom (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @02:04PM (#34127076) Homepage

    earlier this year, the judge found that amount to be 'monstrous and shocking' and reduced the amount to $54,000.

    [the jury] decided today that she was liable for $1.5 million in copyright infringement damages

    The jury is instructed to apply the law without considering whether the law is constitutional. The judge is applying his perspective on constitutionality. Given a 30x difference in outcomes, it seems that there is a pretty severe disconnect between the law and what is right according this official boundaries of this nation's legislative charter.

    What do we do to find the law to be 'monstrous and shocking'? What is the process for finding the legislature and DoJ to be 'monstrous and shocking'? For finding that they do not derive their just powers from the will of the governed and have violated their sworn duty to The Constitution in favor of their sponsors' will-to-power?

  • by onionman ( 975962 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @02:16PM (#34127302)

    But why have there been so many trials?

    Because the amount of damages doesn't matter when you don't have any money. The damage award might be $1.5M or $54K but in either case it's still more than she will ever pay because she doesn't have any money with which to pay.

    When you're so poor that you've got nothing to lose, then you might as well keep fighting until you win (or die trying).

  • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @02:17PM (#34127320)

    The problem is, the laws they are using to prosecute this are almost entirely inapplicable to the situation.

    There was never supposed to be a major nasty punishment in law for noncommercial activity. Copyright laws weren't written to assault someone who photocopies a chapter of a book to study from, or even the whole book. They were written to go after the guy who set up a printing press in a warehouse, or an LP-pressing machine, or a CD-burning machine, started burning bootleg copies and then selling them on the street corner or somewhere else for profit while undercutting the copyright owner.

    At points along the way, the dishonest content cartels decided they wanted even more power. Thus we got punishments for noncommercial copying, even though users are supposed to have the right to secure their purchases and back up what they have purchased.

    Then we got EULA's and all the crappy stupidity that entails, and a legion of idiot, fuckwitted judges couldn't figure out that if it has the form of a sale (e.g. one-time payment, usage in perpetuity) then it is a SALE. Only a few judges ever have enough brain cells to rub together in order to get it right, like the one who ruled in favor of unbundling Adobe packages and selling the pieces one at a time.

    As it turns out, most judges are retarded technophobes who were raised at the teat of assholes like Jack Valenti.

  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @02:21PM (#34127400) Homepage Journal
    you will only have a legal right to what you create, after you successfully participate in the abolition of all the self-created monopolies in music, media, publishing and broadcasting monopolies that FORCE their business models and PRICES down on people's throats through lobbying or market domination.

    until then, you cant have a right, and you cant talk about having a right, because 'free market' is not determining the price or the ways a product is sold and used. if the market is not free, you dont have a right to be free either.
  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @02:27PM (#34127500)

    You can't legally COPY someones work

    Sorry, but we live in an age where copying is something that happens automatically whenever people use their computers. If you sent me an electronic copy of a book you wrote, my computer would automatically copy the book multiple times as part of its normal operation; I would also very likely make further copies when I back up my files, migrate to a new computer, and so forth.

    The problem here is that people keep trying to define a difference between the sort of copying that is part of a computer's normal and routine operation, and sharing files with other people. It is an extreme blurry line -- multiple people may use one computer system, or a multiple computers with multiple users may be connected to the same LAN, or a computer might be connected to more than one LAN, or to the Internet, etc. Exactly where do you intend to define copying as a violation of the right you claim to have over dictating copying? If I have a digital copy of your book, can my roommate who shares a computer with me read it? Can my roommate copy it from my home directory to his home directory? Can we both read it at the same time, using two separate digital copies? What if we have two computers, connected to some sort of computer network; can the book be copied from one computer to the other? What if we have one computer with two processors and two hard drives? What if we have many computers in some sort of cluster? What if we are using a distributed OS?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 04, 2010 @02:41PM (#34127778)
    To continue with this one.

    And if you were never going to buy that cd under any other condition otherwise, the 'infringed party' lost the grand total of $ 0 . Which means that the end result is that value was 'created' out of nothing.

    This is the whole thing about "Imaginary Property" which makes it so weird. You have to actually pretend its worth something, and you need to give it a value.
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak.yahoo@com> on Thursday November 04, 2010 @02:58PM (#34128038) Homepage Journal

    Not only is it cheaper, but the longer she creates waves and headlines, the more the rights to the book/film will be worth whether she wins or loses. One appeal wouldn't be worth anything, happens all the time. But at this point, her fight has become rather more unusual, and the extreme variation will doubtless raise a few eyebrows in the publishing world - not because they'd question it, but because underdog stories (especially ones where conspiracy theories can be added by the editors) sell.

    A couple more rounds and she'll be hot property.

  • Re:No, Wait... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Low Ranked Craig ( 1327799 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @03:13PM (#34128204)
    I think it is only a matter of time before they push the wrong file-sharer too far with these outrageous lawsuits before someone snaps and goes postal at 1025 F St. NW, Washington D.C., not that I would ever condone such a thing, because that would be wrong.
  • Re:No, Wait... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mrxak ( 727974 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @04:26PM (#34129144)

    Yeah, where the heck are these jurors coming from? I've never been on a jury for a civil case before, but I find it hard to believe the juries on civil cases would be so callous. On criminal juries, at least the ones I've been on, people have been extremely mindful and considerate.

  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Thursday November 04, 2010 @04:31PM (#34129232) Journal

    For a native-American woman mother of four, with a job as a natural resource coordinator in Indian reservation? I might be wrong, but don't think $54,000 is doable either.

    Time to find a good bankruptcy lawyer. Hope she picks a better one than she did for her first RIAA trial....

  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Thursday November 04, 2010 @04:33PM (#34129264) Journal

    In most states, they can place liens against her property - assuming she has any.

    Move to Florida. Unlimited homestead exemption. Why do you think OJ moved there?

    Bankruptcy may be an option but she may not be able to even escape it there because of he state laws and the legal details surrounding this particular case.

    Bankruptcy is Federal. State laws only come into play with regards to determining which of your assets are exempt from the bankruptcy estate. It's Federal law that determines which debts can be discharged.

  • by jmerlin ( 1010641 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @04:44PM (#34129428)
    According to that legislation, for it to be criminal, the infringement must exceed $1000 in any 180 day period of the retail price of the works copied. She infringed 24 songs. At the iTunes rate (which I call retail), wouldn't that just be $24 + tax? It's still not criminal, but these "damages" claimed are clearly punitive and excessive. Why doesn't the constitution hold much weight these days?

    For the obvious counter-argument of "but she shared it," note that the law as of now indicates it must be willful infringement. Mere transmission, SPECIFICALLY BY THE 'NET' ACT, does not indicate willful infringement (if the option is on by default but the software does not explicitly tell you that you're sharing files in a manner that may constitute a criminal offense, it may not be willful). So since it doesn't seem that they're seeking criminal charges, I will assume they don't have proof of willful infringement beyond the 24 downloads.
  • by ArhcAngel ( 247594 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @04:44PM (#34129440)

    She just needs to author 24 songs and perform them. Record the performances and give the RIAA or individual studio the rights to the songs she wrote. Since the jury said 24 songs are worth 1.5 million her debt is paid. I see an opportunity to retire early here. Where is that sheet music pad I got at the swap meet last year...

  • by Dhalka226 ( 559740 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @05:48PM (#34130266)

    First, let me say that I do NOT think that she is deliberately trying to get absurd rewards. I just don't buy that argument. But playing devil's advocate and agreeing with it...

    A yo-yo of decisions on the same case does not make sense in the record books.

    That's the point. The Supreme Court takes cases based largely on two criteria: First, that there is an important constitutional issue to settle. And second, that lower courts have arrived at different decisions. If every court that has ever heard a case agrees on how it should be handled, there's little reason to step in -- unless they want to reverse it. I don't see any reason that lower appeals courts wouldn't also consider cases along such lines.

    This is one case with one set of facts, and yet four different outcomes. On the one hand you have a couple of jury decisions obviously attempting to apply the law, but arriving at pretty wildly different decisions. $1.92MM is over 30% higher than $1.5MM just in percentage terms, and almost half a million dollars higher in absolute terms. And then of course the first jury with a $222K verdict that is nearly an order of magnitude different. That alone is an indication that the law may be too vague and require clarification, either by the Congress or the judiciary.

    At the same time we have judges raising constitutional concerns. An award that is "monstrous and shocking" is essentially code for "in violation of the Eighth Amendment," and his reduction took the damages from the highest the case has ever seen to four times less than the lowest jury award. That's significant. So startling, in fact, that the RIAA offered to let her settle for half that ($25,000) if she asked the judge to vacate his verdict -- it is so vastly different, in short, that it has the RIAA worried it might be used as precedent.

    These are all extremely intriguing things for appeal, and for a higher court to step in and go "alright, wait a minute here; something obviously is not right." If they do so, and if they agree that following the law leads to unconstitutional awards, or even that the law is so ambiguous that justice is not being served leaving it so wildly in the jury's hands, it may end up with the law being struck down.

  • by DIplomatic ( 1759914 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @06:08PM (#34130466) Journal

    A reasonable fine would be on the order of $50 to $100 per song.

    I see where you're getting at but in what world is $50-$100 a reasonable amount to pay for creating more of an infinite resource? Let's say you sell joke books. Now let's say I pick up one of your books in the store and read a joke. Later I repeat the joke to some of my friends and we all laugh. Have I stolen something? Am I a thief? Of course not.
    The real issue is that computers and the internet have created a truly unlimited resource. When you think about it, copying an MP3 is similar to matter replication in Star Trek: At your command you can create an exact duplicate of something at no cost! Now many companies stand to lose their entire business if people realize the infinity in computer information replication. The only way they know how to survive is to perpetuate a fake sense of scarcity for their product. This [cracked.com] is a comedy article that illustrates what I mean by fake scarcity.

  • Re:No, Wait... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @07:28PM (#34131194) Homepage

    I'm not agreeing with any of the damage amounts that have been awarded, but just to be clear, she's not being charged with stealing 24 songs, she's being charged with distributing 24 songs.

    She was convicted of making them available. No proof of actual distribution has been given, only assumed. And that said, on any P2P network one byte uploaded = one byte downloaded so if she was average for the network distributing 24 songs means distributing 24 copies. Not entirely unlike the 24 copies that disappeared off the shelf in the grandparent's analogy. If anybody made copies of those copies that is their copyright violation, not hers and she was hardly the initial seed of anything.

    Forget the legal paragraphs here, go with the fundamental harm done. How significantly has she contributed to piracy? How large would the piracy problem have been without her? The answer is pretty much none at all. She's responsible for the few copies she shared, but it's not her responsibility or fault what everyone else is doing.

The absent ones are always at fault.