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Federal judge reduces $1.5 million jury verdict in music file-sharing case

A federal judge on Friday reduced [order, PDF] a $1.5 million jury verdict against a Minnesota woman who was found to have willfully shared music files to $54,000. Chief Judge Michael Davis of the US District Court for the District of Minnesota [official website] described the court as "intimately familiar" with the case against Jammie Thomas-Rasset, as it has presided over three trials on the matter. In granting Thomas-Rasset's Motion to Amend or Alter the Judgment, Davis emphasized the fact that she is a "first-time willful, consumer infringer of limited means who committed illegal song file-sharing for her own personal use." Accordingly, Davis found the award of $1.5 million to the plaintiffs, members of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) [trade website], "appalling" and inconsistent with due process. Instead, RIAA will be awarded $2,250 for each of the 24 songs Thomas-Rasset was found to have illegally shared.

The $1.5 million jury verdict against Thomas-Rasset was handed down in November 2010, during a third trial requested by RIAA based solely on the issue of damages. This request came after an order from Davis in January 2010, to reduce [JURIST report] a $1.92 million jury verdict against Thomas-Rasset to about $54,000. The $1.9 million verdict stemmed from a trial in June 2009, in which a federal jury in Minnesota assessed damages [JURIST report] at $80,000 per song. The jury found her to have willfully violated copyright law by sharing songs on KaZaA, which has since become a legitimate music purveyor. Those proceedings against Thomas-Rasset were a retrial of a previous judgment against her, granted by a federal judge on the grounds that the court erred by instructing the jury that making the music available on the KaZaA network was enough to violate the Copyright Act and that the $222,000 in damages [JURIST reports] was excessive. In 2008, the RIAA said that it would discontinue its controversial policy [JURIST report] of suing suspected file-sharers and instead will seek cooperation with major Internet service providers to cut off access to repeat offenders.

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