Jury finds Thomas-Rasset liable for almost $2 million

After five hours of deliberation, the jury found Jammie Thomas-Rasset willfully liable for illegally downloading 24 songs of the recording industry. They determined damages at $80,000 for each of violations, for a total damage award of $1,920,000.

After five hours of deliberation, the jury found Jammie Thomas-Rasset willfully liable for illegally downloading 24 songs of the recording industry. They determined damages at $80,000 for each of violations, for a total damage award of $1,920,000.

The jury began deliberating at 11 a.m. whether Jammie Thomas-Rasset is liable to six record companies for allegedly downloading 24 song recordings on the KaZaA peer-to-peer file sharing network. Late this afternoon, they had reached a verdict, but it had not yet been announced.

Houston defense attorney Joe Sibley portrayed record company officials as money hungry, big-city executives who he said flew in from Los Angeles and New York to testify against, beat on and teach a lesson to the mother of four who dared to challenge them.

Sibley warned jurors that what happened to his client could happen to them. He said anyone who owned a computer that was linked to file sharing software and used a user name associated with their family could face the wrath of the record companies.

"They are going to come after you like the Terminator," Sibley said.


Timothy Reynolds, a Denver attorney representing the Recording Industry Association of American, took a business like approach in stating that he believed the evidence was clear that Thomas-Rasset illegally downloaded and distributed the record companies' songs.

In his closing argument, Reynolds told jurors that the evidence and testimony linked the defendant to the illegally downloaded music through her Internet Protocol and Modem addresses, her computer user name, and her music tastes. Furthermore, the only computer in her home was located in her bedroom, she controlled access to it and she knew how to do file sharing from a class she took in college.

Thomas-Rasset raised the possibility during her testimony Wednesday that her children and her former common-law husband had the opportunity and ability to access the family account on her home computer and that they knew her user name which "tereastarr." She said it was the first and middle name she had planned to give her first daughter and that was known in her family.

She testified that she didn't believe her children or her former common-law husband downloaded the music, but "some things raise suspicions," she said.

Reynolds jumped on that in his closing argument. He called it "a brand-new story."

"Is it credible to tell one story for years than at trial tell a completely different story?" he asked rhetorically. "If the defendant doesn't believe it, why should you believe it? It's simply not true."

Reynolds told jurors that in three previous sworn testimonies before this trial, Thomas-Rasset had never before mentioned the possible involvement of her sons, who were 8 and 10 at the time of the alleged infringement in 2005. He told jurors not to leave their common sense at the door of the courtroom.

Sibley told jurors that the plaintiffs are seeking $3.6 million in damages, which would be the statutory maximum. "Don't send Jammie to a lifetime of financial misery -- and certainly don't punish her for protecting her children," Sibley said.


Reynolds said that was a misstatement. The damages should be decided by jurors, he said. He said the record companies had suffered significant impact on their industry and in their ability to provide music for people's enjoyment. "The need for deterrence here is great," he said.

He said Thomas-Rasset knew that the hard drive she turned over to the plaintiffs and her own expert for inspection had been replaced since the time of her alleged piracy. Yet she had claimed it was in her computer at the time of the alleged acts. The defendant testified that she simply had a memory lapse and got her dates wrong.

"What she did was wrong and she knew it," Reynolds said.

Under instructions of law read by U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, jurors had to determine if Thomas-Rasset downloaded the six record companies' sound recordings using the on-line media distribution system known as KaZaA on a peer-to-peer network and/or distributed them to the public without the plaintiffs' consent. The defendant denied illegally downloading the songs and also argued that the copyrights were invalid.

The record companies contended that the defendant's actions constituted infringement of their copyrights and exclusive rights. They further argued that the alleged illegal downloading had cost their industry billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

The plaintiffs didn't need to prove that the defendant intended to infringe.

Under the Copyright Act, each plaintiff is entitled to at least $750, but not more than $30,000 for each sound recording downloaded or distributed without license. But if jurors found that Thomas-Rasset knew her actions constituted copyright infringement or acted with reckless disregard of those rights, each plaintiff is entitled to up to $150,000 for each sound recording downloaded or distributed without license.

The verdict form contains 22 pages, but only five questions. Jurors had to answer on each of 24 songs whether the plaintiffs owned the copyrights.


Then they had 24 questions asking if the defendant committed infringement. The third question asked that if infringement was found was it committed willfully on each of the 24 songs? The fourth question asked if the infringement was committed how much damages should be awarded for non-willful infringement for each of the 24 songs. Question No. 5 asked that if the infringement was willful how much money should be awarded for each of the 24 songs.

A Duluth jury in 2007 found Thomas-Rasset liable for $222,000 in damages for willfully committing copyright infringement, but last September Davis granted the defendant a retrial, ruling that his instructions to jurors tainted the trial. Davis had instructed jurors in the first trial that the act of making copyrighted recordings available for distribution violated the copyright owners' exclusive right of distribution, regardless of whether actual distribution was shown.

In granting the new trial, Davis wrote in 44-page decision that he was wrong, that a 1993 ruling from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals convinced him that liability requires actual dissemination. He said he was in error and the jury instruction "substantially prejudiced" Thomas-Rasset's rights.

The court's instruction of law in this trial did not address whether actual dissemination had to be shown.

The Recording Industry Association of America has filed more than 30,000 lawsuits against individuals they say have illegally distributed copyrighted music files.

The record companies involved in the suit are Capitol Records, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Arista Records, Interscope Records, Warner Bros. Records and UMG Recordings.

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