Brainerd mother ordered to pay $1.5 million for music downloads

A Brainerd mother of four reacted sardonically to a federal jury's decision Wednesday on how much she owes the Recording Industry Association of America for copyright infringement damages.

A Brainerd mother of four reacted sardonically to a federal jury's decision Wednesday on how much she owes the Recording Industry Association of America for copyright infringement damages.

"They shaved off $420,000," Jammie Thomas-Rasset said. "Yea."

The Minneapolis jury determined Thomas-Rasset was responsible for $1.5 million in damages for distributing 24 songs on the KaZaA peer-to-peer file sharing network. She could have been liable for nearly $2 million.

In a June 2009 trial in Minneapolis, a jury found that Thomas-Rasset was liable for $1.92 million in damages to the recording industry, but U.S. District Judge Michael Davis reduced that award to $54,000. The court gave the recording industry the option of accepting the reduced damages or scheduling the third trial in the case solely on the issue of damages. That third trial was held this week.

In the nation's first music downloading case to go to trial -- held in Duluth in 2007 -- jurors found Thomas-Rasset liable for $222,000 in damages to record companies. But Davis ruled that he had given jurors an erroneous instruction of law and granted Thomas-Rasset's motion for a new trial.


It had already been proven in the first two trials that Thomas-Rasset willfully infringed the plaintiff's copyrights. Jurors in this trial only had to decide the appropriate statutory damages for willful infringement ranging between $750 per work to a maximum of $150,000 per work.

After hearing two days of testimony, jurors needed only about two hours to decide that Thomas-Rasset should pay $62,500 for each of the 24 songs she illegally distributed.

Testimony at earlier trials indicated that more than 1,700 songs were found on Thomas-Rasset's shared folder, which she was actively distributing to more than 2 million people on the peer-to-peer network KaZaA, but the music companies chose to only sue on 24 of those songs.

"We are again thankful to the jury for its service in this matter and that they recognized the severity of the defendant's misconduct," said Cara Duckworth, vice president of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Recording Industry Association of America. "Now with three jury decisions behind us along with a clear affirmation of Ms. Thomas-Rasset's willful liability, it is our hope that she finally accepts responsibility for her actions."

But Thomas-Rasset said she will appeal with the help of her Houston, Texas, team of attorneys, Kiwi Camara and Joe Sibley.

"The very first thing Kiwi said as we were leaving the courtroom is that we're going to appeal on constitutional grounds," Thomas-Rasset said.

Camara has argued that even the minimum award of statutory damages permitted under the Copyright Act "so far exceeds the demonstrable harm to the plaintiffs than an award of that amount would be unconstitutional."

Thomas-Rasset's case is one of two in the country to have gone to trial out of the more than 30,000 lawsuits brought by the recording industry.


"It's a very unjust law that they're extorting to try to get a payday so they can try to stop file sharing, and it's not working," Thomas-Rasset said. "The one thing we noticed throughout the trial is that it isn't just about me but all of the file sharing going on. But I'm the one being held accountable."

Thomas-Rasset has four sons aged 2 to 16. She took this week off work from her position as a coordinator in the Department of Natural Resources and Environment for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians.

What did she really think about having the damages reduced by $420,000?

"One of my attorneys said that's a nice house and a nice car," she said. "I know it sounds bad, but I can't help but laugh.

"I'm sorry, this is 'Ground Hog Day' and the movie keeps repeating itself. It's a shocking, monstrous verdict once again."

The Duluth News Tribune is a Forum Communications Co. owned newspaper.

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