New trial ordered in Jammie Thomas case

October 2008


US Judge Michael J Davis has granted a new trial in the case of Jammie Thomas, the Minnesota woman convicted of pirating music files in the nation’s first file-sharing trial, ruling that he had made an error in the jury instructions that “substantially prejudiced” her rights. Thomas was convicted last October and a jury in Duluth found her guilty of copyright infringement for offering to share 24 songs on the Kazaa file sharing network. She was ordered to pay $222,000 to six record companies. The legal issue was whether the claimant record companies had to prove anyone else actually downloaded their copyrighted songs, as Thomas’ lawyer argued, or whether it was enough to argue, as the industry did, that a defendant simply made copyrighted music available for copying. Turning to a 1993 appeals court decision, Davis concluded in his 44-page ruling that the law requires that actual distribution be shown. In his jury instructions, he had said it didn’t. Judge Davis also called on Congress to change the federal Copyright Act to address liability and damages in similar peer-to-peer file-sharing network cases saying that whilst he didn’t discount the industry’s claim that illegal downloading has hurt the recording business, the award was “wholly disproportionate” to the plaintiff’s damages saying “The Court does not condone Thomas’ actions, but it would be a farce to say that a single mother’s acts of using Kazaa are the equivalent, for example, to the acts of global financial firms illegally infringing on copyrights in order to profit in the securities market,” he wrote, referring to another case he cited.

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