Friday, January 22, 2010

Court reduces award in Jammie Thomas-Rasset case to $2,250 per song; avoids constitutional issue; enjoins further infringement

The court in the Jammie Thomas-Rasset case today reduced the jury's award of $80,000 per song to just $2,250, concluding that the "verdict [of] $2 million for stealing 24 songs for personal use is simply shocking." The court grounded its decision to reduce the total award to $54,000 -- slashing the jury's verdict by 97 percent -- in the common-law doctrine of remittitur, thus avoiding the issue whether the jury's verdict was unconstitutionally excessive.
Order on Jammie Thomas-Rasset's motion for new trial

Judge Michael Davis of the District of Minnesota gave the plaintiffs (the major record labels) seven days to decide whether to accept the reduced award, or to go back for a third trial, which would be limited to the issue of damages (liability having already been determined in the plaintiffs' favor, and undisturbed by this order). (The first trial ended with a verdict of $9,250 per work (totaling $222,000), but the court granted a new trial after determining that one of his jury instructions was improper.) It's my understanding that if the labels accept the reduced award, they may not then challenge it on appeal. See Donovan v. Penn Shipping Co., 429 U.S. 648 (1977) (noting "settled rule that a plaintiff who has accepted a remittitur may not appeal to seek reinstatement of the original verdict").

The court also rejected Thomas-Rasset's motion for a new trial on other grounds, including her challenge to MediaSentry's evidence-gathering procedures, and to the admission of non-certified copies of the 24 sound recordings on which the labels pursued damages. And it enjoined Thomas-Rasset from further infringement (both downloading and distributing), and ordered her to destroy all copies of the plaintiffs songs that she obtained without permission.

A similar motion to reduce the jury's verdict of $22,500 per song is pending in the Joel Tenenbaum case. While Judge Nancy Gertner is under no obligation to follow Judge Davis' ruling, it will certainly give her cover, and legal grounds, to similarly remit the award against Tenenbaum, which totaled $675,000.



  1. All I can say is "WOW!"

    I'm not surprised that the award was lowered, but this is less than 3% of the original.

    But even this much smaller amount can bankrupt many families.

    Let's wait and see what the RIAA does now.


  2. 54G for distributing 24 songs is still excessive, Davis himself explained he felt that was the *maximum* amount that could be awarded given the circumstances.

  3. People keep expressing indignation because "only" 24 songs were determined to be infringed. Perhaps it would help for them to appreciate that 1,702 songs were actually involved (though precisely how many of these were actually subject to copyright held by the plaintiffs has not, to my knowledge, been expressed in any court filings...but it seems rather doubtful that a mere 24 songs would have been sufficient for JTR to have even caused a ripple on the plaintiffs' radar scope as it has been focused in its campaign against clearly egregious downloaders and distributors).

    Assuming plaintiffs had chosen to assert all pertinent copyrights, which almost certainly would have far, far exceeded merely 24 songs, it is well nigh possible that even the statutory minimum prescribed by Section 504 would have yielded an award of a very sizeable amount, perhaps even as high as just short of $1.3M. Being statutorily prescribed, remittitur would have never even entered the picture. Moreover, it is my opinion that arguments attempting to rely on Gore would fall on deaf ears before the courts.

    This is just an observation, but one I believe does merit being mentioned.

  4. In a non-digital, non-online world, it could be argued that Thomas-Rasset's actions were akin to visiting a (bricks & mortar) music store and slipping two albums into her pocket, then leaving without paying, She would go on to assist others with the same action - her reward from the others; a share of the goods they were able to pocket. Her motive - to achieve the goal of acquiring music without paying. In such a scenario Thomas Rasset would have been arrested, fingerprinted and subject to a criminal prosecution. I doubt whether any judge would have shown sympathy as she was only trying to obtain free music. Thomas-Rasset's actions of acquiring free music has deprived many people; there are plenty of people employed directly and indirectly by the music industry; loss of industry revenue translates to lay-offs. Some of the laid off are single mothers, raising four children.....

  5. I don't envy anyone making a decision on challenging this. Judge Davis is right that the reduced award is still significant and harsh and I would imagine the labels want to get away from the bad PR. And it's not really fair if the jury went for a signficantly higher award because of, for example, disgust at the 11th hour attempt to shift blame. But there's so many people willing to see this as victory, vindication etc. etc. that you might worry about a sort of moral hazard arising from it.

  6. "People keep expressing indignation because "only" 24 songs were determined to be infringed. Perhaps it would help for them to appreciate that 1,702 songs were actually involved."

    So she was found to have infringed the copyright of 24 songs and only 24 songs, but because of this you believe it is appropriate to set a punishment for 1702 songs?

    If the RIAA meant to extract compensation for 1702 songs perhaps it would have sued over 1702 instead of 24. Had Jamie been found to have infringed the copyright in that case, the amount awarded would have been much higher than this.

    At the end of the day the fact remains that this is $54,000 for 24 songs, and an amount that is crushingly and retardedly harsh for something that retails for perhaps $12.

  7. Theft is theft, the record industry should be entitled to collect not only the price of the songs, but the cost of investigation and prosecution. Why should they be punished for suing a thief?


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