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Infamous file-sharer Jammie Thomas-Rasset asked the Supreme Court on Monday to review a jury’s conclusion that she pay the recording industry $222,000 for downloading and sharing two dozen copyrighted songs on the now-defunct file-sharing service Kazaa.Thomas-Rasset, the first person to defend herself against a Recording Industry Association of America file-sharing case, said the damages were unconstitutionally excessive and were not rationally related to the harm she caused to the music labels.“Put more plainly: In a civil case, Thomas–Rasset cannot be punished for the harm inflicted on the recording industry by file sharing in general; while that would no doubt help accomplish the industry’s and Congress’s goal of deterring copyright infringement, singling out and punishing an individual in a civil case to a degree entirely out of proportion with her individual offense is not a constitutional means of achieving that goal,” the petition said.The Supreme Court has never heard an RIAA file-sharing case and has previously declined the two other file-sharing cases brought before it.Thomas-Rasset’s case concerns an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in September that upheld a jury’s award against Thomas-Rasset. (.pdf)The case dates back to 2007, and has a tortuous history involving a mistrial and three separate verdicts for the same offense — $222,000, $1.92 million and $1.5 million. Under the case’s latest iteration, a jury last year awarded the RIAA the $1.5 million, which the court reduced to $54,000, ruling that the jury’s award for “stealing 24 songs for personal use is appalling.”The convoluted decision of the appeals court in September, however, found that the original $222,000 verdict from the first case should stand, and that U.S. District Judge Michael Davis of Minnesota should not have declared a mistrial in the first trial over a flawed jury instruction.In her appeal to the Supreme Court, Thomas-Rasset argues that the Copyright Act, which allows damages of up to $150,000 per infringement, is unconstitutionally excessive. But the Obama administration, which weighed in on the case when it was in the appellate courts, said the large damages award was allowed because it “is reasonably related to furthering the public interest (.pdf) in protecting original works of artistic literary, and musical expression.”The only other file-sharer to challenge an RIAA lawsuit at trial was Joel Tenenbaum, a Massachusetts college student, whose case followed Thomas-Rasset’s. The Supreme Court declined, without comment, to hear his case in May, however, letting stand a Boston federal jury’s award of $675,000 against him for sharing 30 songs.In the third RIAA file-sharing case against an individual to go before the Supreme Court’s justices, the high court declined to review a petition that would have tested the so-called “innocent infringer” defense to copyright infringement.Generally, an innocent infringer is someone who does not know she or he is committing copyright infringement. Such downloaders get a $200 innocent-infringer fine.
For close on six years the dizzying file-sharing case of the RIAA vs Jammie Thomas-Rasset has been winding its way back and forth through the U.S. legal system. The U.S. government itself got involved last month, submitting a brief to the Supreme Court asking it to uphold the $220,000 verdict. Today the Court granted that wish with an announcement that it will not hear Thomas-Rasset’s appeal.The historic case of the world’s largest recording labels versus the Minnesota mother is well known for its tortuous and extended path through the U.S. legal system.The case first went to trial in 2007 and resulted in a $222,000 award after Thomas-Rasset was found to have illegally shared songs using the now defunct file-sharing system KaZaA.The judge later admitted to an error in instructions given to the jury and in 2009 the case went to a second trial, ending with the jury awarding the music industry $90,000 per song shared, a total of $1.92 million.Thomas-Rasset appealed again, stating that the damages awarded were excessive. The judge responded by dropping the award to $54,000 ($2,250 per song) and offered yet another trial to deal with the issue of damages.In 2010 that resulted in an award to the recording labels of $1.5 million. It was later reduced to $54,000 again.Two years later in September 2012 the appeals court reinstated the $222,000 verdict of 2007, deciding that the amount was not unconstitutional. Refusing to admit defeat, December last year Thomas-Rasset said she would take her case to the Supreme Court in an attempt to get the “excessive” damages overturned.But in a further setback, last month she discovered that her severe punishment would be backed by none other than the United States government.In a brief submitted by the Obama administration the government backed the RIAA and asked the Supreme Court to keep the $222,000 intact.“An award of statutory damages under the Copyright Act does not simply redress a private injury, but also serves to vindicate an important public interest,” the brief read.“That public interest cannot be realized if the inherent difficulty of proving actual damages leaves the copyright holder without an effective remedy for infringement or precludes an effective means of deterring further copyright violations,” it added.The Supreme Court went away to consider its options and a few minutes ago delivered its decision. In a government and RIAA-pleasing announcement the Court revealed it will not hear Thomas-Rasset’s appeal.