Only four jury verdicts have ever been rendered in cases involving peer-to-peer file-sharing — and one woman, Jammie Thomas-Rasset, has been the defendant in three of them.
The latest one came yesterday, when a Minnesota jury ordered Thomas-Rasset to pay $1.5 million to the record companies that had sued her. The verdict [PDF] was a culmination of a two-day trial that focused solely on what damages were owed.
Combined with a $675,000 verdict against Boston University student Joel Tenenbaum, the results suggest one of two things: either that Tenenbaum and Thomson-Rasset are just uniquely unsympathetic defendants, or that juries are pre-disposed to grant large awards in file-sharing trials.
On the one hand, such large verdicts give the RIAA a big legal hammer to use in file-sharing litigation. But they can backfire, as well, by upsetting judges and possibly drawing scrutiny from Congress. Thomson-Rasset, a single, 30-something mother of four who lives in Brainerd, Minnesota, won’t be able to pay out such a large award in any case, and the RIAA’s thousands of lawsuits against individual file-sharers have never been a money-making proposition.
The latest damage award for Thomas-Rasset is likely to be lowered by Judge Michael Davis, who oversaw the case. Judge Davis threw out the first verdict against Thomas-Rasset, for $222,000, because of a problem with the jury instructions. He called the second $1.92 million verdict against Thomas-Rasset “shocking” and lowered it to $54,000. The RIAA later offered to accept a $25,000 settlement, but Thomas-Rasset and her lawyers rejected that option. The disagreement led to the most recent trial, focused solely on damages. The $1.5 million verdict supersedes the previous damage figures involving Thomas-Rasset, who was found to have shared 24 songs.
The RIAA’s statement on the verdict: “Now with three jury decisions behind us along with a clear affirmation of Ms. Thomas-Rasset’s willful liability, it is our hope that she finally accepts responsibility for her actions.”