Friday, June 19, 2009

Thomas verdict: willful infringement, $1.92 million penalty; Ars Technica, 6/18/09

Nate Anderson via Ars Technica; Thomas verdict: willful infringement, $1.92 million penalty:

"A new lawyer, a new jury, and a new trial were not enough to save Jammie Thomas-Rasset. In a repeat of the verdict from her first federal trial, Thomas-Rasset was found liable for willfully infringing all 24 copyrights controlled by the four major record labels at issue in the case. The jury awarded the labels damages totaling a whopping $1.92 million. As the dollar amount was read in court, Thomas-Rasset gasped and her eyes widened...

[Defense Attorney Kiwi] Camara acknowledged the [record labels] settlement offer and said that his side would certainly investigate it, but he made clear that he intends to file numerous motions if Thomas-Rasset wants to continue the fight. Motions on the constitutionality of such massive damages and other issues can still be filed with the judge, and then there's the entire matter of an appeal.

Thomas-Rasset sounds inclined to fight on. The case was "one for the RIAA, not the end of the war," she said.

As for Camara, he intends to press ahead with his class-action lawsuit against the recording industry, in which he will take up the daunting task of trying to claw back all the money that the recording industry has collected in the course of its legal campaign to date.

A vigorous defense from Kiwi Camara and Joe Sibley was not enough to sway the jury, which had only to find that a preponderance of the evidence pointed to Thomas-Rasset. The evidence clearly pointed to her machine, even correctly identifying the MAC address of both her cable modem and her computer's Ethernet port. When combined with the facts about her hard drive replacement (and her failure to disclose those facts to the investigators), her "tereastarr" username, and the new theories that she offered yesterday for the first time in more than three years, jurors clearly remained unconvinced by her protestations of innocence.

Camara suspects that the jury thought Thomas-Rasset was a liar and were "angry about it," thus leading to the $80,000 per-song damages.

The case is a reminder that in civil trials, simply raising some doubt about liability is not enough; lawyers need to raise lots of doubt to win the case, and Camara and Sibley were unable to do so here.

The jury found Thomas-Rasset's conduct to be willful, which means that statutory damages under the Copyright Act can range from $750 per infringement up to $150,000. In his closing statement, defense lawyer Joe Sibley made clear that even the minimum award would run $18,000 (24 songs x $750 = $18,000), an amount that he said was unfair and crippling to Thomas-Rasset. The jury decided that the per-song penalty would be $80,000, for a total damage award of $1.92 million, over $1.7 million more than the award in her first trial."

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