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Archive for Saturday, June 20, 2009

Big fine could be big trouble in downloading case

June 20, 2009

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— The $1.92 million verdict against a Minnesota woman accused of sharing 24 songs over the Internet could ratchet up the pressure on other defendants to settle with the recording industry — if the big fine can withstand an appeal.

“Normally in our American legal system, we say the punishment should fit the crime,” said Ken Port, director of the Intellectual Property Institute at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. “Now she’s being ordered to pay, in some ways, an incomprehensible amount of damages.”

Port has closely watched the recording industry’s case against Jammie Thomas-Rasset, 32, of Brainerd and wrote a brief that helped persuade the judge in her first trial in 2007 to grant her the retrial that ended Thursday.

In the latest trial, a federal jury in Minneapolis ruled that she must pay $1.92 million for willful infringement of the recording industry’s copyrights by posting the music on the file-sharing site Kazaa.

Under federal law, the recording companies are entitled to $750 to $30,000 per infringement but the law allows the jury to raise that to as much as $150,000 per track if it finds the infringements were willful. The jury decided on $80,000 per song.

“They now have a verdict they can use in other cases around America,” Port said of the recording industry. “The prices that they will charge for settling is going to go up.”

Thomas-Rasset was the first — and so far only — music file-sharing defendant to go to trial.

The music industry has threatened about 35,000 people with charges of copyright infringement over the past five years, typically offering to settle the cases for $3,000 to $5,000. The recording industry estimates that a few hundred of those cases remain unresolved, with fewer than 10 defendants actively fighting them.

In December, the industry said it dropped its strategy of going after individuals to instead focus on Internet service providers.

Cara Duckworth, a spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America, said Friday the verdict should remind those who share music illegally about the penalties in copyright law. “For the few existing cases, this verdict is a reminder of the clarity of the law,” she said.

Kiwi Camara, one of Thomas-Rasset’s attorneys, said his client planned to appeal the ruling, but the legal team would take a few days to settle on its legal arguments. The damage award will probably be part of it.

“There really is a problem with the statute, because she’s been fined $1.9 million for stealing 24 songs that went for about $1.99 on iTunes,” he said, slightly overstating the cost of songs on the site. “There’s no way that can be the correct result.”

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