RIAA Wins Another Pyrrhic Victory in File-Sharing Case

In her third trial, Minnesota resident Jammie Thomas-Rasset — whose fame has extended well beyond the proverbial 15 minutes — was once again slapped with a fine for sharing 24 songs. On Wednesday, the jury awarded US$1.5 million in damages to Capitol Records. That’s $62,500 for each of the 24 songs Thomas-Rasset illegally shared through Kazaa in 2006.

The irony of the latest Thomas-Rasset fine is that the jury reduced the previous fine by $400,000 with its $1.5 million assessment.

“No matter which side of the fence you are on, the fine seems ginormous,” Azita Arvani, principal of the Arvani Group, told the E-Commerce Times.

The concept of a fine for file-sharing is not outrageous — what’s shocking is the size.

“This case has been working through the courts for some time, and I don’t think it’s any surprise that she’d eventually have to pay a fine,” Casey Rae-Hunter, communications director and policy strategist at the Future of Music Coalition.

“On the other hand, that’s some serious sticker shock for a couple dozen songs shared on a peer-to-peer service,” Rae-Hunter told the E-Commerce Times. “What’s interesting about these legacy infringement cases is that they really haven’t had any measurable effect on unauthorized file-sharing.”

RIAA’s Winning Streak

The RIAA thanked the jury for its service and said it hoped Thomas-Rasset would finally accept responsibility for her actions in a statement published on its website.

The battle over file-sharing has raged in the music industry since the original Napster virtually destroyed the traditional model for distributing music.

Earlier this year, a U.S. District court in New York granted a summary judgment in favor of the RIAA against LimeWire in a case that began in 2006. The injunction forced LimeWire to cease file-sharing operations just last week.

“Obviously, the RIAA has done a good job,” said Arvani. “With LimeWire ordered to stop its file-sharing last week, it is not surprising to see more activity in this area.”

Despite its court victories, though, it’s clear the RIAA won’t be able to put the Humpty-Dumpty recording industry back together again.

Long Haul

Thomas-Rasset has been fighting the recording industry for four years. The first jury found her liable for copyright infringement in 2007 and ordered her to pay $222,000. The judge in the case, Michael Davis, of the U.S. District Court in Minnesota, ruled the he erred in instructing the jury and called for a retrial because he though the fine was excessive.

In a nightmarish twist, the jury for the second trial in 2009 found Thomas-Rasset liable for $1.9 million. Thomas-Rasset subsequently filed a motion asserting the damage award was so disproportionate to the actual damages as to be unconstitutional.

Judge Davis reduced the amount of the damages to $54,000, characterizing the $1.9 million damages as “monstrous and shocking.” A few days later, the Recording Industry Association of America told Thomas-Rasset it would accept a $25,000 settlement to be donated to a music charity if she agreed to ask the judge to vacate his decision.

Thomas-Rasset rejected the offer. The court then asked the parties to mediate a settlement. Those talks broke down and a third trial was scheduled, which resulted in Wednesday’s fine of $1.5 million.

Neither Thomas-Rasset’s attorney, Kiwi Camera, nor the RIAA responded to the E-Commerce Times’ request for comment by press time.

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