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New trial request denied in download suit

DULUTH -- A federal judge has denied Jammie Thomas-Rasset's request for a new trial after a jury found that she downloaded and shared 24 copyrighted songs on a file-sharing network, but the court substantially reduced the $1.92 million jurors awarded the record companies to $54,000.

A federal jury in Minneapolis in June found that Thomas-Rasset, a married mother of four from Brainerd, was liable for $80,000 for each of the 23 songs she downloaded and made available for distribution on the KaZaA peer-to-peer file-sharing network.

In an order released Friday, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled that "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."

Davis wrote that he was reducing the damages to $2,250 per song, not the amount he thought would be most appropriate, but rather the maximum amount the jury could properly have awarded. The court ordered the Recording Industry Association of America to accept the reduced damages or within seven days schedule a new trial on the issue of damages.

"This reduced award is significant and harsh," Davis wrote. "It is a higher award than the court might have chosen to impose in its sole discretion, but ... it was the jury's province to determine the award of statutory damages, and this court has merely reduced that award to the maximum amount that is no longer monstrous and shocking."

"Obviously, going from $1.92 million to $54,000 is a very good thing," Thomas-Rasset said when reached by phone Friday. "Obviously, $54,000 is not an amount to (dismiss), but in consideration of what it could have been, it's easier to wrap your mind around $54,000 than $1.92 million."

She said her Houston, Texas, trial team of Kiwi Camara and Joe Sibley is planning to appeal Davis' ruling against a new trial.

Cara Duckworth, vice president of communications for the Recording Industry of America in Washington, D.C., said the record companies were still reviewing the decision and declined further comment.

Thomas-Rasset had requested that the court reduce the damages to the statutory minimum of $750 per song, $18,000 total. Davis wrote that the record companies had argued there was no basis for the reduced award, but they would consider it as long as it took into account the defendant's willful conduct, the substantial damage caused by her actions, and the significant number of copyright sound recordings upon which she infringed.

The Recording Industry Association of America represented Capitol Records, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Arista Records, Interscope Records, Warner Bros. Records and UMG Recordings in bringing the lawsuit in 2006.

In the nation's first copyright infringement case to reach a jury in October 2007, jurors in Duluth found that Thomas-Rasset committed copyright infringement by distributing the songs and determined the penalty should be $9,250 for each of the 24 music tracks she made available to the public. Her total liability was found to be $222,000.

Davis threw out that verdict because of an error in jury instructions; he also said then that he thought those damages were excessive for an individual citizen to pay. He granted a new trial.

The Duluth News Tribune and Daily Globe are both owned by Forum Communications Co.