Round Three To Goliath

A woman accused of illegally sharing music online was ordered to pay damages of $1.5 million for her alleged copyright violations. Jammie Thomas-Rasset downloaded and shared 24 copyrighted music files using the Kazaa file sharing service. The award wound up at that level because the jury had the discretion under the federal copyright law to award statutory damages that range from $200 to $150,000 per violation. Apparently the jury determined that Thomas-Rasset was liable for $62,500 for each song she downloaded. And this was her third time before a jury on this case. In her first trip to the courthouse she was ordered to pay $222,000 in damages. But that verdict got overturned because the jury received an erroneous legal instruction. On the retrial, the jury awarded $1.92 million, but the judge reduced that award to $54,000. Not satisfied, Thomas-Rasset appealed, and convinced the appellate court to order a new trial on damages. Pursuant to the legal theory known as “be careful what you wish for” the third jury came in with the $1.5 million award. Critics question whether a private user – even one who clearly violates a copyright – should be hit with such a massive award. And the fact that the awards fluctuated so wildly suggests that the statutory damage system may give too much discretion to juries. The record labels, however, would counter that they need the ability to find a few scapegoats to scare the rest of the population away from infringing. No doubt the when Congress originally drafted the law they never could have imagined the technological advances that would make violating copyrights so easy and widespread. And I hope Thomas- Rasset really liked the songs she downloaded. It would be a shame to pay $62,500 for some Celine Dion tune.