updated 05:55 pm EST, Fri January 22, 2010
Judge says RIAA demands unrealistic
Judge Michael Davis in a decision today shrunk the $1.92 million penalty against Jammie Thomas-Rasset for her alleged music copyright infringement. The change stops short of exonerating Thomas-Rasset but asks a much lower $54,000 in total for the 24 shared songs, or $2,250 per song. In the ruling, Judge Davis also accused the music labels that began the case of asking for a disproportionate sum of money; the requested amount has to "bear some relation" to what was actually lost, he said.
"The need for deterrence cannot justify a $2 million verdict for stealing and illegally distributing 24 songs for the sole purpose of obtaining free music," he wrote in the decision, adding that the original penalty would "shock the conscience of the court."
The plaintiffs can still contest the results within the next week but would have to begin a new trial to settle the question of damages. Lawyers for the labels, which include Sony, Warner and Universal as well as sub-labels like Arista, Capitol and Interscope, have yet to respond to the change.
Publicly, the RIAA and its member companies have ceased the legal campaign that targeted Thomas-Rasset and numerous other alleged infringers, opting instead to pursue a warning system to alert Internet users whose connections are carrying such material. However, the remaining lawsuits that weren't settled out of court have often continued on or else seen no lessening in the amount of damages requested, which can sometimes include tens of thousands of dollars for each song.
The ruling could have significant implications for the treatment of music distribution in the US as it sets a financial limit on the impact of illegal media sharing.