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RIAA lawyers may have mislead Minnesota judge, corrupting the jury's decision

Jammie Thomas, the Minnesota resident ordered to pay $222,000 to the RIAA last October, may get a second shot at trial due to a controversial – and possibly misleading – jury instruction.

In October, when Capitol Records v. Jammie Thomas wrapped up, members of the jury were told that the act of making music available for download was all that was needed to prove that Thomas infringed record labels’ copyrights – attorneys for the RIAA compared this to someone displaying pirate DVDs for sale at a table. The instruction likely cost Thomas her victory and a short while later the jury awarded plaintiffs $222,000 in damages for Thomas’ act of “making available” 24 songs for download.

Now, however, U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. Davis now thinks that the “making available” instruction was a mistake. He says that he found a 1993 ruling from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that requires “actual dissemination of either copies or phonorecords.” An Arizona ruling entered on similar arguments was revoked late last April, he added, and earlier this month a Florida federal court reached the same conclusion.

Neither side in Capitol v. Thomas presented the 1993 decision to him, said Davis. Oral arguments on whether or not a new trial will be held on July 1 in Duluth, Minnesota.

With precedent quickly shifting away from the content industry’s favor, the RIAA doesn’t seem fazed: “If we have to retry the case, we’ll do so without hesitation,” said RIAA attorney Richard Gabriel. Record companies can still prove that Thomas violated copyright, because files found on her computer have the same signatures as known pirated recordings – files that Thomas claims were copied from CDs. Beyond that, says Gabriel, evidence that investigators working for the RIAA were able to download music from her computer is more than sufficient to win a second trial.

“We've been saying all along that it was submitted to the jury on an improper theory,” said attorney and Recording Industry vs. The People co-author Ray Beckerman. “Now the judge recognizes his error and he realizes he was misled by record industry lawyers.”

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RE: Haha
By masher2 on 5/16/2008 10:22:19 AM , Rating: 5
> "In Britain you can steal a car and only get a small fine (under £500)"

That sounds like a serious problem in itself.

RE: Haha
By mmntech on 5/16/2008 11:39:07 AM , Rating: 2
I think you would get a little more than a small fine for grand theft auto. It's an indictable crime here in Canada so it would presumably be the same in the UK. Indictable crimes carry a minimum two year sentence. I think it's five years for grand theft.

Still, I agree that this penalty is extremely high. Does this ruling not violate the Eight Amendment? Then again there was Rummel vs Estelle (1980) where a life sentence was upheld for $230 fraud. It's good this woman is getting a second chance.

Note to the editor, how could you not have a picture of Johnny Cochran giving the Chewbacca defense?! This whole case reminded my of that South Park episode. "I am above the Law!"

RE: Haha
By Suomynona on 5/16/2008 12:31:38 PM , Rating: 2
IANAL, but I think the Eighth Amendment only applies in criminal cases, and this is a civil suit.

RE: Haha
By eion on 5/17/2008 2:04:30 PM , Rating: 2
The Eighth Amendment may not apply in civil cases, but the Fourteenth Amendment does. (especially footnote 22).

RE: Haha
By OrSin on 5/19/2008 8:50:45 AM , Rating: 2
I differ here then most people. I think she should be fined. Not the large amount but a pretty large fine. The thing is she was guilty and the lies she used to was shallow. Tis case should have never went to court because they had so much evidence on her. Really dozen others should have been the precedent setting case. We backed the wrong horse with this lady.

RE: Haha
By bryanW1995 on 5/16/2008 4:56:34 PM , Rating: 3
if chewbacca is a wookie, then you must acquit!!!

RE: Haha
By robinthakur on 5/19/2008 10:34:31 AM , Rating: 2
OK, the justice system in the UK is a complete joke, I freely admit. Seriously you'd be surprised how leniant the sentences are! I think punitive punishments are a good idea, generally short of capital punishment, but in this case it just seems delusional to fine one little person so much when there's no proof whatsoever that any losses or damages took place!

"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA

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