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Federal appeals court reinstates damage award in file-sharing lawsuit

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday reinstated [opinion, PDF] a $220,000 jury verdict in a music file-sharing case against Jamie Thomas-Rasset for downloading 24 copyrighted songs. Sony BMG, Arista Records, Interscope Records, UMG Recordings, Capitol Records and Warner Bros. Records [corporate websites] brought the lawsuit claiming $9,250 in damages per song. Thomas-Rasset claimed that any statutory damages awarded under the Copyright Act [materials] should be found to be unconstitutionally disproportionate "because the damages award is not based on any evidence of harm caused by her specific infringement, but rather reflects the harm caused by file-sharing in general." The court ruled, however, that the record companies were entitled to the original damages award and vacated the US District Court for the District of Minnesota [official website] reduced damages of $54,000.

This is the latest ruling in a long-running appeals process. The reduced damages of $54,000 were awarded [JURIST report] last July, a reduction from the $1.5 million ruling handed down in November 2010. January 2010 was the first time the damages were reduced from $1.9 million [JURIST report]. The $1.9 million award came from a trial in June 2009, in which a federal jury in Minnesota assessed damages [JURIST report] at $80,000 per song. 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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