Brainerd music downloader ordered to pay $1.5 million

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 3, 2010 - 9:40 PM

For the third time, Jammie Thomas-Rasset went to trial over downloading music. A jury told her to pay -- a lot.

The third time was not the charm for Jammie Thomas-Rasset, the Brainerd woman sued by the recording industry for downloading music from the Internet for free.

A federal jury on Wednesday ordered Thomas-Rasset to pay $62,500 for each of 24 songs she illegally downloaded through an online file-sharing program. That adds up to $1.5 million.

The verdict followed the third trial in three years for Thomas-Rasset and proved especially expensive. A few months ago, the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) offered to settle with the mother of four for $25,000, to be paid to a music charity. She refused.

It has been an up-and-down series of events for Thomas-Rasset. Recording companies first filed a complaint against her in April 2006, alleging she used the program Kazaa to illegally download and share their music for free.

After the first trial in October 2007, a jury in Duluth agreed and ordered Thomas-Rasset to pay $222,000 in damages to record companies. The trial was considered the first of its kind. But U.S. Chief Judge Michael Davis later declared a mistrial and ordered a new trial, saying he had given jurors erroneous instructions.

That second trial concluded in June 2009, with the jury awarding recording companies what was then considered an eye-popping $1.9 million in damages -- or $80,000 per song.

In January, Davis significantly slashed the damages to just $54,000, or $2,250 per song. At the time, Davis said "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."

Later that month, after Thomas-Rasset rejected their $25,000 offer, the RIAA decided to reject Davis' reduced penalty amount and put the question of damages to another jury.

After about two hours of deliberation Wednesday, jurors came back just before 7 p.m. with another whopping award for the record industry.

"We are again thankful to the jury for its service in this matter and that they recognize the severity of the defendant's misconduct," said Cara Duckworth, a spokeswoman for the RIAA. "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."

It is not yet known if Thomas-Rasset will appeal. Neither she nor her attorney, Kiwi Camera, was immediately available for comment. In closing arguments to the jury, Camera had argued that while Thomas-Rasset had downloaded the music, the music industry could not prove it was damaged. Frankly, she did the industry no harm, he said.

"She may have engaged in the conduct," he said. "That doesn't mean they can take her head and stick it up on a pole."

Camera told jurors that out of millions of people downloading music without paying every day -- with some, in fact, simply getting letters telling them to stop -- the RIAA arbitrarily singled out Thomas-Rasset.

"The only difference is that they picked her out in order to make headline news," Camera said of a case that has been featured in newspapers and on television across the country.

James Walsh • 612-673-7428

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