Thursday, June 18, 2009

Huge win for record labels in Jammie Thomas-Rasset case as jury awards $1.92 million; big question: too huge?

A jury of 12 ordinary Minnesotans with no connection to the entertainment industry today awarded a whopping $1.92 million -- $80,000 per work -- to the major record labels, finding that Brainerd mother of four Jammie Thomas-Rasset willfully infringed 24 of their copyrights by downloading and "sharing" them via the peer-to-peer service Kazaa.

Verdict Form in Capitol v. Thomas
The bottom line is that the jurors simply did not believe Thomas-Rasset's last-minute finger-pointing at her ex-boyfriend Justin Gervais and her then-8 and 10-year old sons. Just like the jury in her first trial in 2007, the new jury -- which included 2 college students, a special ed teacher, a retired nurse, a public transit worker, 2 in retail sales, a pharmacy owner, a health care company administrator, and a housewife who had never used the Internet -- must have concluded that Thomas-Rasset outright lied in her adamant denials that she had ever used or even heard of Kazaa.

The size of the verdict appeared to stun everyone in the courtroom -- both sides' attorneys, Thomas-Rasset, and the assembled press. And imagine how Judge Michael Davis -- who criticized the 2007 verdict of "only" $222,000 as excessive -- must feel. Davis pressed the sides to settle, but Thomas-Rasset adamantly refused. Immediate after the verdict, her attorney Kiwi Camara told reporters that settlement is indeed a possibility, as he candidly acknowledged that the jury did not believe his client. And the labels remain willing to talk. "From day one, we've been willing to settle this case," said RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth, "and we remain willing to do so."

I'll have more on the implications of the verdict later.


  1. I find this blog really interesting. I'm a lurker that's posting, first and foremost, to let you know that your blog is being read and appreciated.

    Specific to this verdict. I'm a non-lawyer and am curious as to why the winning side would have interest in settling after they've won. I haven't a clue as to why.

  2. @Anonymous:

    Thanks -- I appreciate that.

    Why would plaintiffs settle at this point? Two main reasons:

    1) Certainty. It would preserve their victory at trial. If they settle, it would preclude this court or the 8th Circuit from undoing the verdict.

    2) PR. The labels know that this verdict will be perceived by many as excessive. Settling will send the message that they will fight hard to protect their copyrights, but are willing to resolve these cases for a reasonable amount.

  3. Oh, I get it. In particular, the appellate reasoning.

    Keep up the good work. I'm curious about the Boston case (I live in the area) and will keep reading your blog for updates and analysis.

  4. Here's another reason for settling: she doesn't have $1.92 million... or $0.192 million or $.0192 million...

  5. Ben - I also want to than you for your reports on this case - your tweet about the verdict coming in had everyone on the edge of their seats.

    You allude to this in your intro, and I wonder what your thoughts are - the jury is made up of people who understand what it's like to be middle class, and they deliberately chose a penalty far in excess of the minimum. What do you make of that?

  6. Both sides have a huge incentive to settle right now. The plaintiffs aren't going to get $1.92 million anyway, so they get to leave this as a precedent and not worry about any future actions, reductions, arguments, etc. in the case. What they should tell the defendant is: settle before you make any motions to the Court or otherwise, because if you make your motions and fail, you won't have any leverage, and if you make your motions and win, we will be forced to appeal and continue the fight (and they would almost certainly win on appeal--stat damages are simply NOT unconsitutional)

  7. All the plaintiffs did was put on their case. It's not their fault that they won.

  8. @Jeremy:

    It was quite dramatic in the courtroom as well. While the verdict for plaintiffs may seem inevitable in retrospect, that was not at all the case at the time. When the jury was out deliberating, I (and all the lawyers and reporters I spoke with) had no idea how they would decide. A verdict for the defendant, or a hung jury, would not have surprised me at all.

    How did they reach the amount? I think it's notable that it was about halfway between the minimum and maximum amount of statutory damages. I think it's clear that they thought Thomas-Rasset lied. Just outright lied. (Camara candidly acknowledged afterward that the jury must not have believed her.) Perhaps they were especially offended that she blamed her kids for what they concluded was a predicament of her own making. She ratted out her own kids!

    When the jury was picked, I thought it was a good jury for the plaintiffs, because the jurors just seemed Almost all had jobs and families, and plenty of kids. The ones who had iPods *bought* their music on iTunes. I'm sure many of them were thinking, "I pay for my music; why does she think she can get hers for free?"

  9. Thank you for your reporting of this trial. I can't say I'm surprised by the verdict (though I didn't expect the fine to be quite that high.)

    Moral of the story: If you're caught with your hand in the cookie jar it is better to settle out of court. And don't go changing your story at the last minute. And for God's sake, don't go blaming your kids.

  10. Camara should quit his job for this. I mean...his advice to his client was to sell out her friends and family? Seriously? It kind of undermines his intended message (c.f. "Jammie Thomas is a fine upstanding citizen, unfairly victimized by the money-grubbing fat-cat Industry") when his client is up there scrabbling at straws like a drowning rat.

  11. I find this to be funny! they expect her to pay 1.92 million for downloading and sharing? haha! the music industry must be going into bankruptsy! well I hope they go bankrupted because their prices are way to high! I want them to feel the pinch that other americans are feeling! I will just stick to Live bands at bars to here music! and the music industry can take their cd's their video's etc...and shove them up their (you know where)because I will never buy another cd as long as I live

  12. We don't know what Camara and Sibley advised their client. They may have advised her to settle, and not to testify. As long as they informed her of the risks--and the strategy definitely was risky--as far as I can tell from the public reports (I haven't read the briefs) they did a good job on short notice. Certainly better than what's going on in Tenenbaum.

  13. Anonymous said "their prices are too high".

    The roots of music and video sharing are in lockpicking. Once the locks were lifted by creative programers (and continue to be broken with every new DRM) the pirate crowd rushes in and loots what media they wanted.

    How is this different than rioting crowds looting televisions, etc.? It continues to amaze me that the rationale for stealing is the cost of entertainment is too high. At what point did entertainment become a staple of life like home, clothing and shelter?

    Further, if you read blogs sympathetic to stealing media, video games and the like it's interesting to see that paying any amount for media is an anathema. It's really a looting mindset. Without locks, some people steal. They're criminals. Pure and simple. The jury saw this and voted appropriately.

  14. I don't understand. Why are the charges so high?

  15. This case is only a confirmation of who the real criminal is, wich are the record companies.
    It's just stupid to believe that people who have downloaded those songs, would have bought them if they couldn't download it.
    This because the price of an cd, mp3,dvd is way to high. Actually everything that is in the media is overpriced, from movies, actors, musicians,writers,.... It's just a little entertainment , it's doesn't have a big value in the worlds society.


Comments here are moderated. I appreciate substantive comments, whether or not they agree with what I've written. Stay on topic, and be civil. Comments that contain name-calling, personal attacks, or the like will be rejected. If you want to rant about how evil the RIAA and MPAA are, and how entertainment companies' employees and attorneys are bad people, there are plenty of other places for you to go.