Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jammie Thomas takes the stand, admits to major misstep; Ars Technica, 6/16/09

Nate Anderson via Ars Technica; Jammie Thomas takes the stand, admits to major misstep:

"Did she do it? That's for the jury to decide. But the bigger question is whether the process itself—the threat of life-altering damage awards, the hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, the time and exposure of a federal trial—is truly a proportional, equitable response to online copyright infringement?

Not even the judge who must preside over this case believes that the answer to that question is "yes." Writing an unusually pointed order granting Thomas-Rasset a new trial last year, Judge Michael Davis, Chief Justice of the Minnesota District Court, wrote these extraordinary words:

While the Court does not discount Plaintiffs’ claim that, cumulatively, illegal downloading has far‐reaching effects on their businesses, the damages awarded in this case are wholly disproportionate to the damages suffered by Plaintiffs. Thomas allegedly infringed on the copyrights of 24 songs—the equivalent of approximately three CDs, costing less than $54, and yet the total damages awarded is $222,000—more than five hundred times the cost of buying 24 separate CDs and more than four thousand times the cost of three CDs. While the Copyright Act was intended to permit statutory damages that are larger than the simple cost of the infringed works in order to make infringing a far less attractive alternative than legitimately purchasing the songs, surely damages that are more than one hundred times the cost of the works would serve as a sufficient deterrent...

The Court would be remiss if it did not take this opportunity to implore Congress to amend the Copyright Act to address liability and damages in peer‐ to‐peer network cases such as the one currently before this Court. The Court begins its analysis by recognizing the unique nature of this case. The defendant is an individual, a consumer. She is not a business. She sought no profit from her acts... The Court does not condone Thomas’s actions, but it would be a farce to say that a single mother’s acts of using Kazaa are the equivalent, for example, to the acts of global financial firms illegally infringing on copyrights in order to profit...

Despite his opinion, Davis may well preside over another guilty verdict this week; if so, he won't be able to throw it out thanks to a "making available" jury instruction this time around—a fact that perhaps accounts for his perpetual grumpy frown during the trial."

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