Record industry gains key ally in piracy verdict

The U.S. Justice Department sides with industry in its case against a Brainerd, Minn., woman, calling the $1.92 million verdict constitutional. By ALEX EBERT, Star Tribune Last update: August 15, 2009 – 8:01 AM It’s a good day for the recording industry, but a bad day for the Brainerd woman who owes it $1.92 million. The U.S. Department of Justice sided with the recording industry for the second time in a brief it released Friday that supports the constitutionality of copyright law and refutes a key argument in Jammie Thomas-Rasset’s appeal. A Minnesota federal jury found Thomas-Rasset liable for allegedly downloading and distributing 24 songs on Kazaa, an online file-sharing network. The Justice Department brief strongly supports the jury verdict and urged the court to leave constitutionality up to Congress. One of Thomas-Rasset’s central arguments for an appeal has been that the jury’s verdict is unconstitutional and out of touch with reality. Her attorneys argue that the price for each song should be more like the actual market price — about $1.29 per song — instead of $80,000 for each music file. But “the Court should defer to Congress’ reasoned judgment,” the briefing said. “The proper place for any policy debate of what should be the level of deterrence resides in the halls of Congress.” In a first-of-its-kind trial in 2007, a jury said Thomas-Rasset was liable for $222,000 for downloading and distributing 24 songs, or $9,250 for each song. Presiding Judge Michael Davis called the damages disproportionate and asked Congress to consider changing the copyright law. But the Justice Department sided with the recording industry, protecting the law that allows for fines of up to $150,000 per stolen work. Davis later declared a mistrial because of improper jury instructions, which led a retrial in June, the verdict and damage award. Texas lawyers Kiwi Camara and Joe Sibley took on Thomas-Rasset’s case pro bono, saying they disagreed with the Recording Industry Association of American’s mass litigation campaign and doubted the constitutionality of the current copyright law. The Recording Industry group has sued over 30,000 alleged file sharers; most defendants have reached settlements between $3,000 and $5,000. On June 18, the retrial jury slapped Thomas-Rasset with $1.92 million in damages. That award brought an outcry from attorneys who say that an $80,000 penalty for illegally downloading a song was out of line, and that U.S. copyright law was flawed. But the Justice Department said such large sums offset the investigations and other costs for wronged copyright holders, whose profits have been gutted by file-sharers since the rise of the Internet. The recording companies see the department’s brief as a validation of the industry’s campaign and arguments. Cara Duckworth, a spokeswoman for the recording industry group, said in a prepared statement, “We are pleased the administration has filed a brief supporting our position.” Neither Thomas-Rasset nor her attorneys could be immediately reached.

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