Like many of you, I kind of lost my faith in the US justice system (when it comes to piracy cases) when a judge awarded USD 1.92 million in damages for downloading 24 songs in the Jammie Thomas-Rasset case. At the same time, also like many of you, I was very pleased with the outcome of the OiNK case in the United Kingdom last week. As it turns out, some of my faith in the US system has been restored: the USD 1.92 fine has been reduced by 97%, to a mere USD 54000.
Judge Davis of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota slashed 97% off the fine by using his power of remittitur. In June 2009, the jury in the case awarded USD 1.92 million in damages to the recording industry because Jammie Thomas-Rasset downloaded 24 songs off the internet.
“Camara & Sibley LLP of Houston, Texas, filed a motion for new trial, remittitur, and to alter or amend the judgment asking Judge Davis to set this verdict aside as grossly excessive and unconstitutional because the award of statutory damages bears no relation to the injury to the recording industry,” CeCe Cohen wrote in a mass email on behalf of Camara & Sibley LLP to various news outlets (including OSNews). The original jury verdict awarded USD 80000 per song, but Judge Davis reduced this USD 2250 per song.
The problem with this case is that Jammie Thomas-Rasset isn’t a particular sympathetic person. After first taking full responsibility for the 24 songs downloaded, she later tried to shift the blame towards her ex-boyfriend and even her children. “Thomasâ€Rasset lied on the witness stand by denying responsibility for her infringing acts and, instead, blamed others, including her children, for her actions,” Judge Davis wrote in his recount of the case.
While I certainly find that rather despicable (especially the children thing), it’s also important to remember that with the full force of the American recording industry bearing down upon you, facing almost 2 million USD in damages for 24 – excusez-moi – frakking songs, you, too, might react rather strangely. Een kat in het nauw maakt rare sprongen.
Not that that’s an excuse, of course. While the judge stated that statutory damages may exceed the actual damage caused (that’s kind of the point, they need to have a deterrent effect), they still need to bear some relation to the actual damage caused.
“In the case of individuals who infringe by using peerâ€toâ€peer networks, the potential gain from infringement is access to free music, not the possibility of hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of dollars in profits,” Judge Davis wrote, “The need for deterrence cannot justify a USD 2 million verdict for stealing and illegally distributing 24 songs for the sole purpose of obtaining free music.”
The RIAA can now either accept the USD 54000 fine, or request a third jury trial. In the email sent by Camara & Sibley LLP, the law firm sates that they “are pleased with Judge Davis’s ruling and intend to continue to challenge the remaining award as unconstitutionally excessive”.
The fine is still ridiculous, but at the same time, this is the law in the US. It may suck, but that’s just the way it is. I’m glad I live in a country where downloading content – even if it has been uploaded illegally – is not against the law.