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Landmark file-sharing case gets a retrial


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Judge admits error


A federal judge
has admitted he cocked up instructing the jury on a landmark P2P case and ordered a retrial.

Jammie Thomas was convicted last October and a jury in Duluth found her guilty of copyright infringement for offering to share 24 songs on the Kazaa file sharing network. She was ordered to pay $222,000 to six record companies. U.S. District Judge Michael Davis granted her motion for a new trial, while also imploring Congress to change copyright laws to prevent excessive awards in similar cases.

The case centered on whether record companies had to prove anyone else actually downloaded their copyrighted songs or whether it was enough to argue that she made copyrighted music available for copying. Davis concluded in his 44-page ruling Wednesday that the law requires that actual distribution be shown. When he instructed the jury he told them it didn't.

Davis wrote that he didn't discount the industry's claim that illegal downloading has hurt the recording business, but called the award "wholly disproportionate" to the plaintiff's damages. Even if Thomas is found guilty she will have infringed on the copyrights of 24 songs, which he said was the equivalent of around three CDs that would cost less than $54. The total award was more than 4,000 times the cost of three CDs.

He added that damages that are more than 100 times the costs of the works would serve as a "sufficient deterrent" to illegal downloading.  By using Kazaa, Thomas acted like countless other Internet users and her alleged acts were illegal, but common. Her status as a consumer who was not seeking to harm her competitors or make a profit does not excuse her behavior. But it does make the award of hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages unprecedented and oppressive, he wrote.
Last modified on 26 September 2008
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