Judge Declares Mistrial In RIAA's Only Court Victory

from the jammie-thomas-gets-a-second-chance dept

The RIAA’s only court victory in its years-long legal battle against individuals who engage in unauthorized file sharing has been declared a mistrial, and the $222,000 fine against Jammie Thomas has been thrown out. Jammie Thomas may now face a new trial, but this time, the jury will be instructed that the record labels need to have shown actual infringement — and that simply making files available is not infringement. This is a pretty huge loss for the RIAA, who had been running around like crazy using the Thomas verdict to (a) claim that the courts recognize that “making available” is infringement and (b) that this case somehow proves that file sharers will get huge fines. Yet, now the RIAA is back to having no actual court victories against file sharers, and its “making available = infringement” argument is once again rejected.

Perhaps equally as interesting, in declaring the mistrial, Judge Davis also called upon Congress to change the ridiculous fines that can be levied on file sharers, noting that they seem to be way, way out of proportion to the seriousness of the act:

The Court would be remiss if it did not take this opportunity to implore Congress to amend the Copyright Act to address liability and damages in peer-to-peer network cases such as the one currently before this Court. . . . While the Court does not discount Plaintiffs’ claim that, cumulatively, illegal downloading has far-reaching effects on their businesses, the damages awarded in this case are wholly disproportionate to the damages suffered by Plaintiffs.

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Comments on “Judge Declares Mistrial In RIAA's Only Court Victory”

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heddy says:

1. There *will* be a new trial, not may be.

2. The judge said that RIAA might well be able to use the fact that *they* downloaded from Thomas as evidence of the distribution they have to prove.

So it’s not as damning as you say. The judge should not have made the blanket approval of the making available argument in the first place and in admitting that, there has to be a retrial. But he’s not that critical of the actual case here (but as you say, VERY critical of the level of damages).

Mike C. says:

Re: Re:

To be honest, I believe that “may face a new trial” is a more appropriate term here. We have seen time and again that the RIAA will try to dismiss a case when they run into problems. Having a judge toss out their one and only win might be seen as a problem. Additionally, they might press to settle out of court and minimize the bad PR from potentially losing a case that had been trotted out as a massive win.

Given their past behavior, this would not surprise me in the least.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The judge said that RIAA might well be able to use the fact that *they* downloaded from Thomas as evidence of the distribution they have to prove.

But the RIAA has the right to the music! If I was on the jury and if I had to find actual infringement, I’d want evidence that someone without the legal right to the music downloaded it. And they simply do not have that evidence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

1. There is only another trial so long as Thomas keeps defending herself. So that is a *may* be, not *will* be. Most likely there will be, but there is a chance she’s just out of cash/steam.

2. Maybe they can use that evidence, except they already owned the rights to the content. What is the penalty for downloading music you already own the physical media too? I’d hope none, as I do that every time I reformat (much faster than ripping them all again).

The judge did not have to give a mistrial. The fact he did is fairly critical of the case itself on its own merits, let alone the rest of what he said (RTFA FTW)

2kmaro says:

Re: Define Proof of IP in this day and age

A good defense lawyer should certainly be able to show that an indication of an IP is not a guarantee that the indicated IP is actually the IP they (the RIAA) was connected to during the download.

I just hope that there are some people on the jury that understand just how easy it is to forge an IP or email address and for it to be pretty believable unless you’ve taken extraordinary steps to verify it.

Then of course there’s always the “aw crap! I didn’t know that I was sharing my files with the entire internet world” defense.

While I do not condone theft of copyrighted material, the antics of the MPAA and RIAA to date have shown them to be larger villians than any file sharer I ever heard of. And as the judge noted, the potential fines are completely out of line with the actual damages done in cases like this one.

When are the MPAA/RIAA going to realize that the solution is to invest the $$ they’ve been tossing at prevention in a new direction: a new business model that takes into account the potential of the internet as a market, rather than viewing it as some kind of combination of vile enemy and potential cash cow (by attempting to rape the vile enemy’s agents with outdated legislature).

IT Guy says:

Re: what should suprise me but doesn't

Well, I’m hoping that Congress is spending more time working on health care costs & insurance, the current financial crisis, and maybe a few other issues that are a lot more important than copyright and IP.

We’d be a lot better off if Congress had seen the sub-prime mortgage problem coming and done something about it 4 or 5 years ago.

I’m very interested in copyright, IP, and the “War on **AA”, but it has much less impact on me than what I have to pay for health insurance.

Tony (user link) says:

Re: Re: what should suprise me but doesn't

“We’d be a lot better off if Congress had seen the sub-prime mortgage problem coming and done something about it 4 or 5 years ago.”

The NY Times predicted it in 1999, when the bill that led to it was signed. Congress didn’t care.

Likewise, Congress won’t care about what this judge is saying, either. Don’t expect these outrageous fines to go away anytime soon.

K. Marsh (user link) says:

Re: Re: what should suprise me but doesn't

We’d be a lot better off if Congress would just get the hell out of the way of the mortgage problem and let the market settle. The only reason there is a mortgage problem is because Congress meddled where it doesn’t belong. The same goes for health insurance. The only reason we have any sort of health care crisis is because we have allowed our federal government to weigh down providers with rules, regulations, and subsidies, all of which have more to do with punishing enemies and rewarding friends than they do with helping you or I get affordable health care.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

The whole issue of damages in these cases is absurd. If I steal one purse, the victim cannot collect restitution from me for every other purse that was stolen from her. And the victim could only recover the actual cost of the purse (if she didn’t get it back). She also could not recover extra restitution as punishment.

In the civil realm a person can only get actual damages for economic and non-economic losses. (And there are certainly no non-economic losses in an RIAA suit, e.g., no pain or suffering).

But yet the content industry wants the opposite. They’ll talk about how widespread pirating is and they’ll try to recoup as much as they can way out of proportion to the individual infringement.

If someone uploads three songs, the damages should be three bucks. That’s it. Anything more would be a windfall. And in nearly every other area of law, that would be improper.

snowburn14 says:

Re: Re:

“If someone uploads three songs, the damages should be three bucks. That’s it. Anything more would be a windfall. And in nearly every other area of law, that would be improper.”

While I agree the money they typically try to “recoup” is ridiculous, $3 isn’t exactly fair either. While I’m loathe to sound like I’m even in the same county as someone asserting that 1 dl = 1 lost sale, you can’t equate uploading 1 song with 1 lost sale either. I don’t know the specifics of the deals worked out with digital distributors like itunes or amazon (i.e. whether it’s a lump sum based on expected sales or if they fork over a percentage), but I can only assume they pay more than $1 apiece for the right to sell downloads. Obviously we’re not talking about people charging for the songs they’re sharing, so nothing on the scale of what amazon pays for the rights would make sense, but neither are we talking about a one-time occurance. It seems to me what’s fair would have to fall somewhere between those two extremes, albeit a lot closer to the $3 mark than what they go after…something tells me they’ve sought more than what they charge amazon from time to time.
Personally, I think they’ve lost more money in sales due to bad PR from they’re overzealous attempts to enforce their copyrights than they have from people who would’ve bought it if they hadn’t been able to dl for free. But given that it’s entirely possible they’ll be made obscolete in 10 years, and that they’ve past the point of no return PR-wise, I don’t know why anyone expects them to do anything other than go after every penny their lawyers can make even the weakest argument for.

fprintf says:

re: IT guy

Re: congress spending more time on healthcare, don’t count on it. With the current financial mess expected to take months or years to resolve, it is likely that we will have at least that long to deal with the current US system.

There are a few articles out yesterday and today about the initiatives of our Presidential candidates having to take a backseat until this financial mess is solved. One of the primary ones, and one that requires a lot of work and funding to fix, is the healthcare system.

Anonymous Coward says:

Two pertinent jury instructions, No. 14 (making infringing copies by downloading copyrighted music via P2P) and No. 15 (overstating what constitutes infringement of the “distribution” right). Apparently the jury was not polled (trial counsel will make sure that in the future this is never overlooked) at the time it announced its verdict and damages, and thus the Court was unable to determine the amount of damages associated with No. 14 (the valid instruction) and No. 15 (the invalid instruction).

Make no mistake, the RIAA proved to the jury’s satisfaction that infringing copies were made by the defendant. Statutory damages are available, but their amount needs to be ascertained. As for unauthorized distribution, the RIAA will have to “tweak” (i.e., supplement) its evidence, a relatively easy matter.

Will a retrial take place? I would be surprised if it did, expecting instead that a monetary settlement will be worked out between the RIAA and the defendant. Why? Because no matter how you cut it the evidence supports at the very least that the defendant made infringing copies.

Dan says:

You know I realize that file sharing reaches alot more more people than it did back in the day when you made a cassette copy for a friend. But I wouldn’t have bought the majority of the albums, cassettes or cd’s that I have to this day if it hadn’t been for those copies. On that note I will never buy a Metallica CD, see them live, or listen to them on the radio ever again due to them selling out to the RIAA. Just goes to show … Money changes everything and once your rich, your not rich enough. We made them rich, now we are watching them ruin peoples lives. I doubt Jammie ruined anyones life because of her 24 songs, if anything, she just made it so that if someone hadn’t heard the songs they might buy the album.

Scote says:

“The RIAA’s only court victory in”

That is not quite true. It was a victory in a fully briefed court case that went to trial.

The RIAA has had plenty of “victories” in courts, such as getting their ex parte discovery orders approved–even though they are part of sham law suits for that sole purpose, which is supposed to be legally impermissible.

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