updated 10:30 am EDT, Thu September 25, 2008
Mistrial in RIAA Thomas
Minnesota US District Judge Michael Davis today dismissed a Recording Industry Association of America victory in its controversial anti-piracy case against Jammie Thomas, declaring a mistrial. The move at least temporarily eliminates the $220,000 fine demanded by the music label representatives for claims that she pirated 24 songs by making them available through the KaZaA file sharing service. The call for a retrial comes after Judge Davis reversed his position and said a jury was no longer required to consider hosting songs enough of a legal grounding to find against Thomas.
The decision follows the judge's post-verdict reconsideration of his previous approach that he said was likely to result in a mistrial but which was open to court arguments from either side.
Davis' turnaround centers primarily on the application of the US Copyright Act, which to this date requires evidence of an actual exchange taking place to find someone responsible for copyright infringement. The RIAA hasn't provided evidence of this taking place with third parties in Thomas' instance and has claimed that providing proof would be "impossible," effectively handing a default ruling in favor of most defendants in these cases.
The organization nonetheless has been told that any proof of test downloads by investigators might be usable as evidence; critics, including Thomas' defending attorney Brian Toder, have in the past argued that test downloads don't show evidence of copyright violations as they are explicitly approved by the RIAA. Other legal teams have also challenged the legitimacy of the investigations themselves, with New York's Ray Beckerman questioning their permission to conduct investigations of potentially private data.
Judge Davis also issued a statement on damages that supports both Thomas and critics of the RIAA's approach to punishing alleged file sharers. The RIAA has often been accused of forcing no-contest settlements for thousands of dollars by threatening much costlier trials and very high fines should alleged targets lose their cases. The Minnesota judge agrees that copyright infringement is a problem but says that the fine asked for in the Thomas case is "wholly disproportionate" to the actual amount lost, even after factoring in many downloads of all 24 songs.
"Thomas allegedly infringed on the copyrights of 24 songs -‐ the equivalent of approximately three CDs, costing less than $54, and yet the total damages awarded is $222,000," Judge Davis explains. "[The fine is] more than 500 times the cost of buying 24 separate CDs and more than 4,000 times the cost of three CDs."
It's not yet known when the retrial will begin. The RIAA also has not commented on the decision.