RIAA Files Expected Appeal Over Judge's Decision To Decrease Jury Award In Jammie Thomas Trial

from the how-dare-the-judge-be-reasonable! dept

The RIAA's war against reasonableness continues. As totally and completely expected after Judge Michael David reduced the jury award against Jammie Thomas-Rasset from $80,000 per song shared to a still ridiculous $2,250 per song shared, the RIAA has now appealed the case to the Eighth Circuit appeals court. Now is when the case finally starts to get more interesting. The RIAA is actually challenging three parts from the three prior trials (as you may recall, the first two were tossed out). Specifically, the RIAA is asking:
Whether the District Court erred by concluding that making a copyrighted work available for download on an online file-sharing network is insufficient to constitute a 'distribution' under 106(3) of the Copyright Act, and therefore refusing to enjoin Defendant from making Plaintiffs' copyrighted sound recordings available to the public.

Whether the District Court erred by concluding that it had committed an error in instructing the jury that making a copyrighted work available for download on a online file-sharing network constitutes a "distribution' under 106(3) of the copyright Act and therefor vacating the jury's verdict and ordering a new trial.

Whether the District Court erred by holding that the jury's award of statutory damages for defendant's willful copyright infringement violated the due process clause even though it was well within the range of damages awards authorized by 504(c) of the Copyright Act.
All three are interesting legal questions. The last one may be the biggest, but the hardest to succeed on. The reasoning used so far by two different judges in dropping jury awards is that the jury awards were so out of line with reality that they violated due process. The RIAA is scared to death that any sort of reasonable awards be associated with copyright law, because they're still under the ridiculously misguided belief that absolutely insane judgments for millions of dollars will scare people into no longer sharing files. The thing is, it's likely they have this misjudged in a big, bad way. The awards in the millions of dollars for just a few songs seem so incredible and so unfathomable, that most people simply think it's impossible. I honestly believe that they'd have a lot more luck if the fines were seen as much lower and much more within the grasp of the average file sharer. But the RIAA is not known for thinking logically.

The first two issues are actually important as well, though they'll get less attention. It's a key fighting point by the RIAA: which is whether or not a copyright holder needs to prove actual distribution to show an infringement of the distribution right under copyright law... or if merely "making available" constitutes distribution. This has been a major point of contention. The RIAA relies on a case about library books to say that merely "making available" is a violation of the distribution right, but other rulings and basic common sense on what constitutes distribution, suggest that merely making available is not, in fact, distribution by itself.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2011 @ 2:19pm

    Being that they are fighting civil rather than a criminal case, it is very likely that "making available" should be enough to show the intent, and certainly being able to download even a single part via P2P from the defendant would show a willingness to distribute.

    The second follows the first. For me it is similar to solicitation for prostitution, you don't have to actually perform the act to have made the case. Offering up of the "goods" should be enough, especially on a civil level.

    The final one is also likely to go the MPAA's way, because the law is very clear and has limitations built in. The laws are not open ended, the jury didn't randomly come up with a stupidly large number that is beyond the scope of the law, but rather came up with a number that is within the scope of the law as written. Unless the law can someone be invalidated (first amendment challenge, perhaps), there is little to say that the law is wrong.

    In front of SCOTUS (if they ever get there), the actions of a judge who appears to be trying to bend the law will not go over well. There is little justification for setting aside a jury award that is within the scope of the law.

    The 8th amendment won't be an issue here, for two reasons. First, this isn't really a "fine" in the sense of a criminal action, and secondly that the jury award is within the boundries of the law as written, passed, and signed into law. It's pretty hard to get around that.

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