A federal judge on Friday drastically reduced a nearly $2 million verdict against a Minnesota woman found guilty last year of sharing 24 songs over the Internet, calling the jury’s penalty “monstrous and shocking.”
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis reduced the $1.92 million penalty a jury imposed against Jammie Thomas-Rasset of Brainerd to $2,250 per song, or about $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,” Davis wrote.
Davis also denied Thomas-Rasset’s request for a new trial. He gave the Recording Industry Association of America seven days to either accept the smaller penalty or to ask for another trial to set new damages.
Cara Duckworth, spokeswoman for the RIAA, said the group’s attorneys were still analyzing the ruling and would have no immediate comment. Reached on her cell phone, Thomas-Rasset said the ruling was positive but that her attorneys are planning an attempt to get it lowered further. “Whether it’s $2 million or $54,000, I’m a mom with four kids and one income and we’re not exactly rolling in that kind of dough right now,” she said.
Thomas-Rasset’s two principle attorneys did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.
This case was the only one of more than 30,000 similar lawsuits to make it all the way to trial. The vast majority of people targeted by the music industry had settled for about $3,500 each. The recording industry has said it stopped filing such lawsuits and is instead working with Internet service providers to fight the worst offenders.
Under federal law, the recording companies are entitled to $750 to $30,000 per illegally downloaded song — but the law allows the jury to raise that to as much as $150,000 per track if it finds the infringements were willful.
That’s led to other large verdicts, including one against Rhode Island graduate student Joel Tenenbaum, who last year was fined $675,000 for downloading and distributing 30 songs. His lawyers are seeking a new trial or reduced damages. Davis wrote that he arrived at the $54,000 figure by tripling the $750 minimum, thus arriving at $2,250 per song. He wrote that were it his decision, he might have reduced it even further.
“It was the jury’s province to determine the award … and this Court has merely reduced that award to the maximum amount that is no longer monstrous and shocking,” he wrote.
Ken Port, director of the Intellectual Property Institute at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, said it could take a bit of steam out of recording industry’s efforts to discourage illegal file-sharing.
“They don’t have as heavy as a stick to wave around anymore,” Port said. “But like Jammie, most people don’t have $54,000 any more than they have $2 million — so I’m not sure what the direct impact is going to be.”